Existential Psychology

Family Values

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Imagine for a moment that you were accidentally switched at birth. A French couple had been living and working in the United States for a while and were now waiting for their baby to be born before moving back to Paris. You were taken across the Atlantic and raised in France. Think about some of the ways you would be different from how you are now.

It’s quite jarring to consider how much of your personhood is dependent on variables completely outside of your control. You were thrown into this world without your knowledge or consent at a historical moment and in a geographical location and these factors have exerted a profound effect on your development.

I think one of the most important results of consciously realizing how your culture and your upbringing have influenced your prescribed ways of thinking and feeling is that you more readily accept values and ways of being that are different from your own. Many people say things like “I was raised to believe so and so,” stating it with pride and the conviction that their way is the only way, but this is an illusion and proof of an unexamined life.

One of the rather nefarious reasons that parents work so hard to instill values in their children is that they are unconsciously working on an immortality project. If their offspring thinks, feels, and relates in the same way that they do, then in a way they get to live on.

This is why blind acceptance of your values and how you were raised can be a major detriment to your own happiness. Imagine a pizza menu with all kinds of different pies to choose from. They are all equally good in their own unique ways. Yet you decide, without ever having tried anything else, that the Hawaiian is the only one for you. You order it every single time and obstinately believe all the other pizzas are inferior, although in practice you know nothing about them. People would think you were crazy yet blind adherence to cultural and family values is the exact same thing.

From an existential point of view differentiation is one of the most important life tasks. This means growing away from what you have been taught and towards who you really are. It doesn’t mean completely discarding the values that are important to you or the  lessons that your parents and your culture have taught you, but it does mean viewing them more objectively and deciding whether they truly fit. Differentiation is anxiety provoking because it entails uncertainty. But it means that you get to decide upon a set of values that let you become who you really are.