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by Paul Brenner, M.D., Ph.D.
and Donna Martin, M.A.
way you see your own family of
origin may be affected by your unique genetic temperament as well as by
your childhood experience. In studies of identical twins, genetic temperament
has been shown to influence the choices made in life. Your life journey began
with your parents or primary caregivers, and your childhood experience of
gifts, hurts, and disappointments: these became the very foundation of your
ideas about love and pain. What do we mean to suggest by this?
"Gifts" are those things that you
appreciated most about your parents. Your
gifts may include qualities or attributes
that you chose to acquire from a parent.
Often, they are what you appreciated about a
parent when you were between the ages of
three and twelve. The gift may be a
characteristic that you remember fondly,
something that your parent
modeled. This was most likely a duality or
characteristic or behavior that made you
feel cared for and loved.
Now let's walk through a
process of identifying the gifts from your
parents. (If stepparents, grandparents,
aunts and uncles, or foster parents were
your primary caregivers during your
formative years, you might want to give
separate answers for each of them; for now,
choose your two primary caregivers, whom
we'll refer to as mother and father.)
Try to let your answers
come from a place of openness -- what in Zen
Buddhism is called a "beginner's mind." Even
if your memory of a parent is primarily
unpleasant, let your thoughts come from an
open, beginner's mind. We're looking for
something positive about your parents, even
if it is sometimes hard to see at first.
Think about a time from
your childhood, when you were between the
ages of three and twelve. Think about the
house you lived in, your mother's room,
where you had supper, where you felt safe.
Try to recall or imagine your mother's face,
the clothes she wore, how she smelled, how
she felt, and how you felt loved.
In your mind's eye, let
the years roll past. There's no need to
analyze anything; just close vour eyes,
see the images, and feel whatever you
feel. You may have a
single memory of a brief moment with your
mother, or repeated memories of something
Take a quiet moment to
reflect on your mother; then fill in the
mother's gift to me was
Now take a look at your
father's gift to you. Again, think about a
time from your childhood, between the ages
of three and twelve. Think about the house
you lived in, your father's room, where
you had supper, and where you felt safe,
loved, or cared for by him. Avoid using
the generalizations "love" or "survival."
How did he demonstrate that he loved you?
Try to imagine your
father's face, the clothes he wore, how he
smelled, felt, and loved. Now try to
recall what you appreciated the most about
your dad. If more than one answer comes
up, summarize these qualities into one or
My father's gift to me was
What we appreciated most
about our parents when we were children is
what we now tend to emulate. What each of us
chooses to emulate may also be influenced by
our genetic temperament; nature and nurture
combine to give us our gifts. Temperament
might explain why siblings often discuss
their childhoods as if they all had
different sets of parents, and why each of
them recalls different gifts! It could also
explain why identical twins tend to see life
through a similar lens and to choose similar
experiences, even when they are separated at
Take a look at how your
parental gifts define love.
I know I
feel loved when
I know I am loving others when
How do these answers
relate to my parental gifts?
Of the two gifts I
received from my parents, the one that I
cherish most is
How We Love and Feel Loved
People tend to be attracted to
individuals who seem to offer gifts that are
similar to those from parents.
Past relationships with
others are retained within the mind and
these residues shape the anticipation and
often the actual perceptions of present and
-- Harry Stack
This way of viewing
present situations through the past can be
conscious or unconscious, and is usually a
combination of both. We tend to demonstrate
our affection for others by offering them
the same gifts that we appreciated from our
parents. Our parents' gifts of love are now our
gifts of love. They represent how we wish to
be loved and how we show love to others.
Sally loved her children by
being there for them, organizing her work
schedule to be home when they got home from
school and staying home evenings with them.
And she listened to them when they told her
about their day. Her gifts were "being
there" and "listening."
The upside of your gifts
from parents is that they now become the
gifts that you have to offer to others. The
downside is that if someone does not give
you these same gifts, especially the one you
cherish most, you might feel that they are
not being loving. Your definition of love
can therefore be very limited and static.
Love from another person might be available,
but you may be missing it if it is not the
face of love that you have learned to
recognize. The way your partner expresses
love may not be your way.
Here's an example of such a situation:
"I love my wife by offering her my most
cherished parental gift of freedom, while what
she actually seeks from me is the same
closeness she received from her father. So
when I give her space, she seems to interpret
it as a lack of caring. And when she wants to
demonstrate her love for me by being close, I
The experience of love can get
lost. It is offered, but not received as an
expression of love. Neither person gets the
love they're seeking. When any of us uses the
word "love", we imagine that others share the
same definition. Yet the aspects and qualities
of love are infinite.
It's not unusual to take a
perceived absence of love personally. "Why am
I not lovable?" we may ask, "What is wrong
with me?" We might blame ourselves as well as
the other person. Since we were given a
particular form of love in childhood, we often
assume it to be our birthright. This sense of
entitlement can give rise to irrational
expectations and major disappointments.
article was excerpted from "Seeing Your Life Through New Eyes", ©2000,
by Paul Brenner, M.D., Ph.D. and Donna Martin,
Reprinted with permission from the publisher,
Beyond Words Publishing. For
Brenner, M.D., Ph.D., is an obstetrician/gynecologist and psychologist
widely known in the medical community as well as in the self-help field.
He directs the SafeReach Institute, an educational center promoting the
understanding of addictive behaviors. He lectures extensively throughout
the United States, Canada, and Europe.
Donna Martin, M.A. is a
counselor, therapist, trainer, and consultant from Kamloops, British
Columbia, Canada. She has worked in the field of alcohol and drug
addiction for many years.
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