Outside in

Though the intention of my blogging will be to write about personal musings, sentiments and experiences, I feel it important to also reflect upon how the outside world has shaped me. I think people too often forget that who they are is largely shaped by their environment and their past. This is an incredibly complex interweaving of experiences that I won’t pretend to fully understand because not only are we formed by many different elements of our environment, the impacts reach across generational and often geographic boundaries. Our parents are one of the most profound influences on us, but our parents were impacted by their parents, and so on.

I am the daughter of a last generation Hungarian-born father and a first generation Canadian mother, born of Hungarian immigrants. Some might say I was cursed with Hungarian roots on both sides (because I’m Hungarian I am allowed to say that Hungarians are strange, to put it kindly). On top of this, 3 of my grandparents were Jewish, and survived the concentration camps of World War II. I will remind you that one of the most prolific stereotypes about Jewish mothers is that they are neurotic, particularly as it relates to worry, anxiety and a need to have control. While this may seem a cliché to some, in my experience it is truth. Furthermore, I don’t believe it an overstatement to say that Jews who witnessed and survived the atrocities of Auschwitz and other WWII war camps did not escape with their emotional and psychological health intact.

On my father’s side, my grandmother was an exceptionally intelligent but emotionally cold woman. When the Nazis began taking Hungarian Jews from their homes, my grandmother and her family were provided with a hiding place (remember Anne Frank). Unfortunately, her non-Jewish husband turned her and her family over to the Nazis. You can probably see why she turned cold and suspicious. On my mother’s side, my grandmother watched her parents and pregnant sister get taken away after arriving in Auschwitz, never to be seen again. She worked in an artillery factory until the end of the war, where she intentionally assembled guns incorrectly and was beaten for it. She was lucky to come out of Auschwitz alive. Despite her experience, she was a loving, playful, yet intellectually simple woman. I have always believed that she was not actually unintelligent, but that rather than turn cold, her defence mechanism was a loss of intellectual faculty.

As you might imagine, these experiences and the resulting effects on my grandparents’ personalities in turn affected my parents, who further influenced me. Included in the list of impacts is my predisposition to try to control situations (not people). Therein lies part of the reason why I have difficulty delegating personal tasks, like to be a driver and not a passenger, and feel I can convince someone of my point of view if only I explain it five different ways. Other traits influenced by family include my attitudes about food and ideal body image, male and female societal and marital roles, my academic and professional goals, my communication style, and the way I define and demonstrate love.

The many beautiful, heart-wrenching and soul-touching experiences and relationships I’ve had since leaving my parents’ nest have subsequently shaped me into an extremely different person than I was 10 years ago. It is interesting the way that life can be deconstructed into progressive phases, some with greater impact on our core than others. I can say with complete confidence that in my life, the last 6 years have been the most influential and filled with intense growth.

As I mature, I see more and more how my thoughts, attitudes and actions reflect how I was either passively affected by, or compelled to rebel against my early developmental environment. I also see how difficult (though possible) it is to alter personal characteristics that hang on a deeply rooted family tree.

This entry was posted in Blah(g).

One comment on “Outside in

  1. […] survived, including 3 of my grandparents. I wrote a bit about this in the early days of my blog (read here), and also wrote about a different perspective in my series on Inspiring Women (found here), after […]

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