What I Got From My Parents
Make the List
Get a pad of paper (or computer if you prefer to type). You are going to make two lists. The first is a list of everything you can think of that you learned or gained from your parent (mother or father) that you feel has had a positive influence or effect on you. Stay with just one parent at a time. This list can be anything and everything, and you can create it over days if you like, but I would suggest on the first sitting to write as many things as you can think of right now. The items can be extremely simple such as "how to peel a potato" to very complex - "the value of being honest." If you like making lists, you can even organize your items in categories, but it's not necessary. Mostly it's important to be as specific as you can. For the second list, write everything you learned or gained from your parent that you feel has had a negative influence or effect on you. Again, go from simple to complex.
Jane is a 44 year-old woman who has been in three abusive relationships. The last one was particularly bad and it took a lot of courage and help to free herself. Not surprisingly, Jane grew up in a family where her father regularly abused her mother both physically and emotionally. He didn't physically abuse the children, but he was emotionally abusive to them at times. Jane had a mixed emotional relationship with him. She was his favorite and he spent extra time with her. On good occasions, he was loving and interested in her, but the relationship could take a big shift when he was angry. During those times he was overly critical and attacking. Over time, Jane's self esteem suffered and she learned to doubt her own perceptions of herself. As an adult, she sought out relationships with men that alternately placed her on a pedestal and tore her down. She was also the victim of physical abuse in each of these relationships.
If you watch your thoughts over a full day, which by the way I recommend highly, see if you can count the number of times your mind drifts automatically toward observing, evaluating, and/or criticizing someone else's behavior. If we're really honest with ourselves, it happens many times everyday. Why? Because it's the default habit of the ego to deflect away from itself and focus on someone else. In other words, we'd rather think about someone else's stuff than our own. It's sort of a built in protective mechanism. It's a way to see and confirm who we are in a positive light.
Ignorance is Not Bliss
This may seem like an odd question to ask as many people believe personal history is very important. On the other hand, others say we should strictly focus on the present and not be dragged down by our histories. I think both viewpoints have some validity for different reasons. There is a middle ground which both makes use of personal history while keeping a strong foothold in the present and interest in moving forward. I believe this middle ground is by far the most productive approach and this is why: every present moment contains all that's come before it in the past, and also holds the seeds to the future. Time is a continuum. And where we are at every moment is tied to where we were and where we are going. The only way this does not apply is if you are speaking on a very metaphysical plane that is beyond time, but for our purposes here, we are working within time.