Breaking Bad

supernail_bite_no_moreWhen I was a rough and tumble tomboy of a teenager, I chewed my nails. They were trashed. They were nibbled and picked and often painfully bloody. It was a habit. One that I broke without really trying in my late teens, when my mind settled enough, and I aged enough, for my system to understand how to better handle stress. Now they look great with no effort at all [because no, I’m not “doing my nails” on a regular basis without a gun to my head] and I often get accused of wearing fakes.

I promised myself that I would quit smoking at 35. I missed the mark. I tried again at 38, with the help of Chantex. It was working rather well until the medical fubar from hell that stopped it dead in its tracks. Once healthy, I tried again. And I failed again. I’ve since decided “screw it”, I only have one bad habit and I’m keeping it*.

But do I?

Sure, I don’t drink much. I don’t chew my nails. I don’t do drugs. I don’t twirl my hair. But what is a habit? A habit is something we do without thinking about it. A habit is something you do repeatedly, until it becomes second nature. Something learned from repetition. For instance, I do interrupt people when they talk—and wish I could break that one!—which I totally blame on growing up in a house where everyone talks at once. You want to be heard? Jump in when they take a breath…

But are all habits bad? And more importantly, if they’re learned, can you unlearn… or unteach one?

My ex-husband had a strange habit. When things were going well, he would start a fight. I don’t know why for sure, but I always claimed it was because “happy” made him uncomfortable. You grow up and become what you grew up witnessing, often whether you want to or not. As much as I adore his mother, his parents did argue, bicker and nitpick—a lot. It was what he knew. What he was comfortable with. What he called normal and patterned his life after. It was a learned habit. After the divorce, I noticed my son getting pissy when everyone was happy and having fun. While he’s getting better as time goes by, it seems he’s picked up an environmental habit.

One I wish I could break.

But can you break someone else’s habit?

Bob & I have a talked at length about reactions that are habit due to previous relationships. We’re not breaking the other one’s habits, just gently reminding each other when they pop out, “I’m not him/her.” We have to break them ourselves. We have to relearn reactions and responses. It comes with the territory of being old and having lived, and failing at marriage, or any long term relationship. Awareness is necessary. But you also have to want to break a habit for it to work. And you have to catch it when it starts. Stop it, stop the reaction, stop the words, and tell yourself not to fall into that habit.

I’ve talked to the boy child, gently, and put the idea in his head that it could be a learned response. I’ve tried to counteract Pavlov’s training through both words and actions. But it’s not my habit, it’s his. It’s learned by what he lived, and I can only hope what he’s living now will adjust it. That he’s not too set in his ways already, at thirteen, to prevent him from unlearning and allowing happy to just be happy.

He’s 100% better than he was a year ago, but it’s still there on occasion. It still makes me sad that he falls into that habit… I wish he chewed his nails. There’s a polish to curb that.

Thoughts? Tell me what you think...

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