By Dr. Thomas B. Holman and Abby Viveiros
Transitional Characters. This change of heart we discussed in the previous articles leads to another phenomenon that is important for you to understand as you come to terms with dysfunctional aspects of your family past. It is called becoming a transitional character. A well-known marriage and family therapist, Dr. Carlfred B. Broderick, studied this process of putting off bad things from your past and coined the term “transitional characters.”
A transitional character is one who, in a single generation, changes the entire course of a lineage. The changes might be for good or ill, but the most noteworthy examples are those individuals who grow up in an abusive, emotionally destructive environment and who somehow find a way to metabolize the poison and refuse to pass it on to their children. They break the mold. Their contribution to humanity is to filter the destructiveness out of their own lineage so that the generations downstream will have a supportive foundation upon which to build productive lives.
There are several things you can do to become a transitional character. As you read these things, think about the following:
Which one or two of these suggestions can I start incorporating into my life right now?
- Transitional characters are very deliberate. This means that they take charge of their lives, make deliberate decisions about how they want their lives to go and then work deliberately to make that happen. If being easily offended was a characteristic in your family of origin, for example, and this created conflict between parents and with others outside the home, plan how you will respond when a boyfriend or girlfriend says or does something that offends you. Don’t just let yourself slide into reacting the way your parents did. We use the word “slide” intentionally because research has shown that some people slide into cohabitation or marriage, rather than decide how their life is going to go. One day they wake up and realize that they allowed themselves to get into a situation that is now causing them great grief and turmoil. Don’t slide through life, falling back on old, automatic dysfunctional patterns or habits learned in your family. Deliberately decide to be different and then do it. Allow Jesus Christ’s Atonement to start working in your life by choosing to follow Him and keep his commandments. Then His Atonement changes your heart and gives you the power to decide about rather that slide through life.
- Transitional characters develop supportive relationships. Build friendships with people from strong family backgrounds and watch how they respond to difficult situations and then imitate them. Cultivate relationships with older adults like a religious leader, a teacher, or a co-worker who know how to “do” successful relationships and watch how they act in relationships and if appropriate ask for their help. Of course the ultimate “supportive relationship” is with God. Read carefully the accounts of Christ’s relationships with others, then imitate Him and call on Him through prayer to the Father to help you put these new attitudes and behaviors into your life. The Holy Spirit can then act as a cleansing agent to purify you and change your heart. Researchers referred to this as a “compensation” pathway in which an individual who grew up with unsupportive and insecure relationships with parents finds security through their relationship with God.
- Transitional characters take opportunities to learn about good relationships. Taking classes on dating and marriage can be helpful. Reading good books on dating, relationship building and marriage are also helpful to many people. This has been found to be almost as good as going to a therapist or counselor and is now called “bibliotherapy.” In fact, these articles are bibliotherapy! Use them well.
- Transitional characters join organizations and are actively involved. Most volunteer organizations in your community are staffed by wonderful people who are involved because they care about others. These are great people to associate with. Also, helping others do better in their lives can inspire you to improve your life. You can often find such people in Church. Start attending regularly and get to know good people you admire and want to be like.
- Transitional characters get professional help if needed. If you get stuck and can’t seem to make much progress on your own, don’t be ashamed to seek professional help. If you are a student at a college or university, this help is often free or very low priced. Check at your college or university’s counseling center. If you aren’t a student, your religious leader can help you or may be able to help you find free or inexpensive counseling.
- Transitional characters are patient with themselves and change. One researcher found that it may take two or even three generations for the poison to be completely metabolized. A mother may metabolize the poison of severe physical and sexual abuse, but she may still be troubled by angry outbursts. Her daughter, continuing the process, will have learned how to continue metabolizing the poison, avoiding angry outbursts at her children and teaching them how to effectively and safely manage their own anger.
We asked you to think about which one or two things you could start doing right now. Which did you choose? ————————————————————————————————————————————————————————————
Set a goal RIGHT NOW on what you will do, when you will start, and how & when you will evaluate how well you did. Good goals are specific. Not “I’m going to control this temper I seem to have inherited from my dad”, rather “Next time I ask a girl out and she turns me down, I will talk it over with my roommate until my anger goes away.” ——————————————————————————————————————————————————————————————————————————————————————————————————————————————————————-
This article is one of a series. For others in the series, see: