Updated: Jul 3, 2021
What if I told you that every time you make a decision, every time you choose to do something, you're actually not the one doing the deciding? What if I told you that the free will we all think we have, is actually comprised of our entire familial history, our early experiences, all the things that have had an influence on us from the time we were conceived?
When I was a little girl, I wanted more than anything, for my big brother to play with me. He is 3 years older than me and growing up, I thought he was the coolest person around. The feeling wasn't mutual. My arrival wasn't met with much enthusiasm from him and things didn't really change much. As we grew into adolescents, teenagers, the last thing he wanted was his dorky sister following him around making him look uncool. I get it. But I did everything I could to make myself someone he would want to be friends with--from always choosing for myself his favourite flavoured ice cream, to favourite colour and music he liked. I basically moulded my tastes to feel accepted by him, to the point where I realised I never figured out what my tastes were.
So many of us make choices and decisions in life, most of the time unconsciously, based on the influences that those closest to us have had on us. Little do we realise that that thread goes way back, sometimes even generations. When I look back at my own life, there are so many moments that I thought were fate that I now realise was something more intricate, more deliberate, more matter of fact. Take my former job as a news anchor. My mother was instrumental in teaching me how to read. She told us she wanted my brother and me to be articulate. She knew that being brown we would have our work cut out for us in the professional world so she wanted make sure that our language skills was something no one could hold against us. Every night before bed she would make me read the front page of the newspaper out loud. You see, my mother always wanted to be a journalist but life had other plans for her. That's one layer.
The other layer is that I was a pretty lonely kid growing up. I never really felt seen. I don't blame my family--they had their own stuff to deal with. Remember, we do the best we can with the information we have available to us. I never felt unloved. Far from it. I knew my parents loved me and they worked hard, they worked alot to give me everything I needed. I just felt unseen. That was the price when bills had to be paid. Long story short, I ended up choosing a job where I would be seen by the world. But that didn't stem the loneliness. In fact, it magnified it. In personal relationships, I chose people who were emotionally unavailable. It was only when, heartbroken and in tears, I stopped to ask myself why I kept choosing to be in this place did I start to peel away those layers to figure out my patterns. Because ultimately, we may think we make decisions based on gut feeling and chemical reactions but what our biology recognises is familiarity. Then there are the people who we think we are supposed to be (or are influenced into being) based on social, cultural, racial, religious, and gender "norms". We choose professions based on definitions of success defined by our parents and caregivers. We become who we think they want us to be. And we are afraid to let them down. Afraid--not the scared in the dark kind of fear, but the fear of not being good enough. Which leads us to being afraid of being abandoned.
It's all down to evolution and our physiology where one part of our brain evolved while the other, the part that includes our "fear-centre", the amygdala, didn't. A part that is millions of years old. Dr. Pippa Grange, author of the book Fear Less says that our lives are "run by fear." Fear, she writes has "become our behavioural GPS, mapping out our choices and limiting our possible futures. And it's not all coming from you: so much of how we live and what we believe is coming from outside us, recycled and projected onto us through the cultures we live in." Cultures that have influenced our parents, their parents before them, and so forth. Dr. Grange adds, "Your ability to work out if something is desirable and good or dangerous and bad was fully formed before you were even born...Your unconscious is also formed by what happened in your early life, especially before you had language and reason and could understand concepts...your brain development and world view were shaped dramatically by your parents and caregivers' communication style and their responsiveness to your needs. You worked out if you were safe, protected and cared for--or not--from their non-verbal communications and behaviour. And you sent this information straight to your unconscious where it is still today." An unconscious that has been handed down generation after generation. Until it isn't. Until the cycle is recognised and re-wired.
The psychologist Dr. Shefali Tsabary writes, "Do you realise much of who you are is scripted by another? your parents, your family, your religion, your schools, your culture?" She goes on to add when we start to ask ourselves, "who am I really? Who am I on my own? Without another's ideas of me? Without another's expectations of me?" Perhaps then we might get to the root of how we define who we are and what we want in our life. Now in my late 40s, I am in the process of figuring myself out. So that when I make a decision, I am doing based on information that I find for myself. Not what I think might look or sound good. Not what I think is acceptable. Not what I think will make me be loved more. I look it at as research project and the subject is me. And I'm starting with simple things, like my favourite flavour of ice cream.