The concept of mitosis was on my mind quite a bit over this past holiday season. Not mitosis in the typical biological sense, but rather the concept of differentiating from one’s family system. It is normal, healthy, and a necessary step for all twenty-somethings to take at some point in this pivotal decade of our lives, but at times it can be painful for all parties involved, and holidays can be interesting…
I am the oldest in my family, and thus I tend to plow headlong into issues and life events, which makes it easier for my three younger siblings. You’re welcome, kids. I’ve always been as independent as possible, but things began to shift and clarify when I moved for graduate school and started living by myself in August 2012. I’d had roommates up until that point so this was a massive shift. Eight hundred blessed square feet all to myself (and two cats), where I could dance how I want, listen to the music I love, read the books and watch the movies I prefer. I am discovering who I am apart from the conservative constraints of my family and the Baptist university I attended for undergrad.
Let’s take the classic example of profanity. In my family, growing up, we were not allowed to say any of the following words: hate, stupid, idiot, moron, jerk, crap, frik, shut up, hell, heck, gosh, geez, god—much less any of the actual curse words. So of course all of those words meandered into my vocabulary when I went to college. I don’t see anything wrong with the words (within reason), and they all have their place. Furthermore, have you ever wondered why it is that swear words are deemed “bad”? By definition, they describe words that we say all the time without being sent to the principle’s office. “Shit” is the same as crap, poop, No. 2, feces, excrement, or whatever else. Furthermore, they vary depending on where you live. Most Americans don’t go around inserting “bloody” into phrases (e.g. “Well, bloody hell!”), but a young person might be chastised in the U.K. for saying that. They are societal constructs that I can take consideration of, but am not required to bow to.
My parents are a product of the conservative, religious societies that they grew up in, and more and more I am pulling away from those constructs. I’m exploring what my goals and values are regarding several “taboo” subjects, such as sex, relationships, attitudes toward the LGBTQ community, politics, abortion, birth control, feminist issues, communication styles, alcohol, mental illnesses, religion and more. Furthermore, against all odds I have been more content over this past fall semester than I have been in almost my entire life. I am delving into who I am, and as a result I am becoming unapologetically myself, after being apologetic for existing almost my entire life. Things are finally snapping into place and there is enormous freedom to be found in the process, and my mental health has vastly improved.
But, unfortunately all of this growing is rather unnerving for my family, and so holidays can be tough, at best. There are many fights, and my parents try to issue mandates like, “No R-rated movies in the house!” I have to fight to stand tall when entering back into that environment, so that the constraining box doesn’t squish me back down. I repeat the mantra of “I am a 23-year-old adult with my own life, and while I’m sorry if might not approve, I’m not going to change for you.” I am a product of my family system, in that I have retained some of the good and the bad bits from my parents. I am a good person, intelligent, and I am a very genuine and loyal friend. But I also absorbed some communication styles and engrained concepts that I am forcibly picking apart, examining, and getting rid of.
I think this is a process that twenty-somethings need to go through, even though it is occasionally alarming for observers. What are the values and morals that you hold dear, and are they truly your concepts or have they been spoon-fed to you for so long that you don’t know from whence they originated? It can be a brilliantly painful process to pull away from your family system but discovering yourself is well worth the effort. Don’t shy away from the process but instead embrace it and learn everything you can about it. Talk to your trusted friends and family members who will always love you because of, not in spite of, who you are. In the end, you are the one that will have to deal with who you are for the rest of your life. So my man, Socrates, had it exactly right when he said that, “the unexamined life is not worth living” (Apology 38a). Go forth and examine young padawans, I promise you won’t be disappointed at what you find.
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