Beginning in childhood our brains are constantly “downloading” new information. One way we can understand our behavior is through the process of observational learning. For example, we watched how our parents acted during difficult and challenging times. Were they even- tempered and rational or emotionally unstable and irrational? Once downloaded and stored unconsciously, these experiences become automatic responses later in life when faced with similar difficulties and challenges.
Individuals that are observed are called models. Usually parents have the most significant influence on a child. For example, when you were growing up you may have observed how your father lost his temper and drank too much when he was upset. You would learn that it was okay to lose your temper and drink when you are upset. Friends, relatives, teachers and even characters on children’s TV can also have an influence on your behavior early on in life. Children observe and imitate their models. By doing so they identify with that person internalizing or adopting many of their behaviors, values, beliefs and attitudes.
This is a more useful way to think about addictive types of behaviors too, rather than simply believing they run in the family. In this way, what has been learned can be unlearned and then replaced with new learning. Obviously it’s easier to do so when there are people in your life that model desirable and appropriate behaviors.