Families are our origin. They can be our DNA, they can be our first loves and our greatest heartbreak. They are the people whom we learn everything from, whether or not what they teach us is healthy. Even in dysfunctional families, there is love, and a bond that is different from any other human relationships. Which is why, for better or for worse, families are so important in our mental health.
Every superhero has an origin story, and ours is our family. Sometimes, there are changes in our family, such as adoption or foster care, but those people in our lives just add more depth to our story. They mold us and shape us, intentionally or not, into the people that we are today. They expose us to life in their own ways, and then we get to choose whether we want the same things or something different.
Part of our origin story is how we interact with our families. In families where there are peaceful relationships at home, we tend to react less intensely emotionally. If we grew up in a family with a lot of loud or opinionated behaviors, we might turn out like that, too. If we see a lot of fighting, then we are more likely to approach other relationships with fights. We learn relationship skills from the environment that is at our core; our family.
DNA and Learned Habits
Many people inherit their DNA from their families, which sometimes includes genes for mental health and substance use. Even in foster care and adoption families, our genes often include a propensity for mental health and/or substance use. While this is something that cannot be helped, the impact can be harmful in that we may not always have positive role models for mental health. We might also have mental health problems which are made worse by the behaviors of our family members due to substance use or mental health. Our belief systems about getting help for substance use or mental health issues are also formed within our families.
Our families also teach us habits. For example, substance use is often learned at home. If we have a parent or other adult who drinks or uses drugs to cope with their pain, then we will naturally, and often subconsciously, learn that this is how we should cope, too. If we have someone in our families who has mental health issues but does not follow their doctor’s care and thus is often depressed or exhibits other behaviors, then we will naturally learn that this is how life is. However, it is up to us, as we approach adulthood, to look around and find the healthiest options for ourselves. Maybe this is not how life has to be, maybe we can have something different.
Love…Even at 3:00am
Our families are the only people who will help us when we have a stomach bug, will support us when we struggle in school, and will also pick up the phone at 3:00am when we have done something dumb and need their help. Even if we are not emotionally close to all of our family members, they show us their love and devotion by going to work, giving us food and clothing, a roof over our heads, and maybe more. They show us that they love us when they hug us, discipline us, tell us they are proud of us, and rescue us… again and again.
If we have a mental health or substance use issue, we need our families. Whatever their flaws, and maybe even for their dysfunction, they are our origins. They are our backup plan when life gets tough and the first people we tell about our successes. This kind of love only happens once upon a family, and we need that love to be mentally healthy.
Even if we are not as close to all of our family members as we would like, we can always change that. For example, if we attend outpatient treatment, we can learn communication skills to help us improve the relationships with our family members. Our family members can come to our outpatient treatment, too, and they can learn more about our mental health issues, as well as how to better communicate with us. It is never too soon to try to improve family relationships, we can start today. Right now.
Some families have abuse and trauma, often in conjunction with untreated substance abuse and mental illness. We can still love our families, even in the most difficult of circumstances. We can also learn to set boundaries to protect us and keep us mentally healthy. This idea challenges the rosy ideal of families, but it is possible and even healthy for us to do. We can seek guidance and support on how to deal with this in therapy or outpatient care.
Our families created our origin story. They love us and support us through everything. Sometimes, we inherit or learn negative behaviors from them, but our relationships can always be improved. Even when we do not have the ideal family life, we are always learning and shaping our ideals, values, and even our mental health from our families. No matter what our situation is with our families, we can always learn from them.
Embark is the most trusted name in teen and young adult mental health treatment. We’re driven to find the help you need. If you’re looking for support, contact us today!