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Uncategorized | Dr. Jim Osterhaus

The Same People Keep Showing Up In My Life

July 11, 2022

Photo by Ayo Ogunseinde on Unsplash

This is a hard concept for many people to grasp, so let’s walk through it. When we are growing up, certain people, beginning with our primary caregivers, carve an indelible impression on our brains – in our personal stories. Each of these important people have distinct characteristics that influenced us. These can be positive and negative. The kindly grandmother imprints the characteristics of love, acceptance, and nurturance. The overbearing father imprints control, disapproval, and non-acceptability. These characteristics remain buried in our stories in our emotional brains, and are summoned later in life as we encounter people who remind us in some way of that primary person who first influenced us. And what it takes in another person to remind us of the primary character is often minimal (e.g. a boss is nothing like my overbearing father, but he is in a position of authority over me, and that’s enough to activate dad’s characteristics).
So I meet this person later in life who reminds me of the primary person who imprinted my brain, and I place on that person (i.e. project) the characteristics of the primary person. I meet an older woman with a certain smile, and I place on her the characteristics of my loving grandmother, and then expect her to act in a similar way. I meet the boss who can be gruff at times, and place on him all of the characteristics of my overbearing father, and act toward him in similar ways (or in ways I would have liked to have acted) toward my father, all the while expecting him to be that father person I so disliked.
And our minds also play tricks on us. Our minds, once the primary characteristics have been projected, only see in the other person those actions and behaviors that confirm our suspicions that person is just like the primary person. In other words, when my ‘overbearing’ boss acts kindly toward me, I just might dismiss or ignore that behavior. I filter out the good in my boss, only seeing those behaviors that confirm what I have already made him out to be.
So these primary people, the good ones and the bad ones, keep showing up. You might be saying, this sounds a lot like prejudice, and you’re right. Prejudice has to do with pre-judging another person before you really get to know them. And once the judgment is made, it is often very difficult to disconfirm what we have already judged to be in that other person, because as we said, our minds censor out disconfirming data, and only allow that data which confirms our pre-judgment.
Now take some time to think of those people who had the most influence in shaping who you are (for good or ill) when you were growing up. See if you can discern characteristics that you tend to miss about each person. It is these characteristics that often you will find floating around within the people with whom you are currently in close contact. That can be good, a positive thing. It can also be more harmful when the characteristics are perceived as negative, and you inadvertently react to these people in negative and unhelpful ways.


About Dr. Jim Osterhaus

Dr. Jim Osterhaus is the Senior Executive Coach at Leighton Ford Ministries with extensive experience helping ministry leaders and organizations
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