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Becoming a Transitional Character: Changing Your Family Culture

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Latter-Day Saints Perspective

No family is perfect--today or at any point in history. But some families get it right a lot more consistently than others. These families cultivate caring and understanding relationships. They work together, play together, and laugh together. They are unified in purpose and in their commitment to one another. Family members support and encourage each other. Parents are dedicated to the success of their marriage and family. In essence, these families create a loving family culture.

Other families are not so ideal. Members may neglect responsibilities, treat each other unkindly, reject and forsake vows, and engage in physically, emotionally, sexually, or spiritually abusive behaviors. They may be manipulative and critical. Some members may abuse alcohol or other drugs. Family members who perpetuate these destructive practices do so at great cost not only to themselves but to future generations as well. The Family: A Proclamation to the World warns that "individuals who violate covenants of chastity, who abuse spouse or offspring, or who fail to fulfill family responsibilities will one day stand accountable before God" (¶ 8).

Many people believe that those who grow up in a negative home environment are destined to perpetuate the same patterns in their own families. To some extent, research supports these beliefs. For example, studies show a connection between child-rearing attitudes and behaviors among parents and those of their adult children. If a parent was divorced or less happy in his or her marriage, there is a greater tendency for children to follow suit.

The good news is that these findings tell only half the story. Other research shows that passing on negative family traits from generation to generation isn't a foregone conclusion. Even if you grew up in a damaging home environment, you can choose different behaviors than those you experienced there. You can stop the negative patterns from flowing downstream to future generations. With education, focused effort, and help from others, you can choose to be a transitional character.

The late Carlfred Broderick, a renowned marriage and family scholar at the University of Southern California, coined the term transitional character and described it this way:

A transitional character is one who, in a single generation, changes the entire course of a lineage. The changes might be for good or ill, but the most noteworthy examples are those individuals who grow up in an abusive, emotionally destructive environment and who somehow find a way to metabolize the poison and refuse to pass it on to their children. They break the mold. They refute the observation that abused children become abusive parents, that the children of alcoholics become alcoholic adults, that "the sins of the fathers are visited upon the heads of children to the third and fourth generation." Their contribution to humanity is to filter the destructiveness out of their own lineage so that the generations downstream will have a supportive foundation upon which to build productive lives.

What can you do to become a transitional character in your own family? Here are some ideas:

  • Develop a vision of yourself as a transitional character. Seeing yourself successfully changing negative family patterns can help keep you focused on your goal to be a transitional character rather than a simple transmitter of damaging behavior.
  • Build supportive relationships with strong adults. Building a supportive relationship with at least one emotionally healthy adult, especially someone with a strong family background, is an important way you can find help in becoming a transitional character. Life-altering changes are difficult to make alone, but when you receive support from someone else, such as a spouse, grandparent, teacher, or minister, it's much easier to interrupt abusive family patterns. This person can mentor you as you work to counteract the natural tendency to simply repeat family patterns.For example, one father found he had a tendency to react with anger to the demanding cries of his toddler son. He also found himself being too physically harsh with his son. His wife intervened, and through discussion together the husband realized he was treating his son as his older brothers had treated him in their single-parent home. This awakening through a supportive relationship was crucial as the father sought to become more patient and gentle with his son, reversing the pattern modeled in his family of origin.
  • Be deliberate about making changes. Negative family patterns are difficult to break. If you want to become a transitional character, you'll be more successful if you have a conscious plan outlining the specific behaviors you want to change and how you will go about fulfilling your plan. Some professionals call this process "re-scripting"-writing down and then role-playing what you will do when faced with real-life scenarios. You can role play your new "script" with the supportive adult mentioned earlier. Rehearse the script over and over again, and be patient with yourself as you practice the new pattern in real-life situations. It takes time to establish new patterns of behavior.
  • Celebrate family rituals. Establishing family rituals is a good way to provide a sense of unity and constancy to family members. Rituals can provide stability to a family when problems come up. Rituals include regular meals together, an evening once a week set aside for family fun, bedtime stories, and holiday traditions. To be most effective, these rituals need to be observed even when family times are tough.
  • Create a healthy emotional distance. All of us are influenced by the people we spend time with. If your family of origin is particularly negative, consider distancing yourself so their impact on your own family is minimized. It's usually not necessary to completely cut ties, but carefully evaluate the situation and keep what distance you need to so that you don't unintentionally perpetuate harmful family behaviors.
  • Marry at a later age. An older age at marriage (early 20s and older) and higher education contribute to a happier and more stable marriage. By waiting longer to marry, persons from negative home environments allow themselves more time to practice and establish healthy behavior patterns.
  • Read good books about family life. The more you know about what makes a healthy family the better, and reading is a good way to learn. If you come from a troubled family, you didn't see many positive behaviors in your home. You can learn healthier ways of interacting from good books and by trying out ideas from these books in your relationships. Respected authors have written many excellent books with valuable information to help parents, spouses, and children. A list of some of these books is included at the end of this article.
  • Join organizations that can help. All of us tend to become like the people we spend time with, so it's a good idea to be around people you want to emulate. Since volunteer organizations usually attract good people, consider volunteering. Or you might join a group that serves your community or participate in a religious community. Some organizations are more effective than others, so evaluate what best meets your needs.
  • Get an education. A good education teaches you to think clearly and make wise choices. It doesn't matter what you study as long as you're using your mind and developing your intellect. Even taking a few classes here and there from a local community college is helpful. Many communities offer classes on marriage, parenting, and other family issues.
  • Get additional help if needed. After doing your best to change negative family patterns on your own, you might find yourself needing additional help. Seek out a professional counselor recommended by others or a member of the clergy who can help steer you toward a transformed future.

Written by Kristi Tanner, Research Assistant, and edited by Stephen F. Duncan, Professor, School of Family Life, Brigham Young University.
Additional Reading

Check out the following books for ideas to create the marriage and family culture you want to pass on to future generations:

  1. The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Families (1997) by S. R. Covey.
  2. The Intentional Family: How to Build Family Ties in Our Modern World (1997) by W. J. Doherty.
  3. The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work (1999) by J. M. Gottman.
  4. Fighting for Your Marriage (2001) by H.J. Markman, S. M. Stanley, and S. L. Blumberg.
  5. Bonds That Make Us Free: Healing Our Relationships, Coming to Ourselves (2001) by C. T. Warner.

References

  1. Belsky, J. & Pensky, E. (1988). Developmental history, personality, and family relationships: Toward an emergent family system. In R. A. Hinde & J. Stevenson-Hinde (Eds.), Relationships within families (pp. 193-217). Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  2. Bennett, L. A., Wolin, S. J., Reiss, D., & Teitelbaum, M. A. (1987). Couples at risk for transmission of alcoholism: Protective influences. Family Process, 26 , 111-129.
  3. Bitter, E. (1992). Processes that promote the transitional character phenomenon. Unpublished paper.
  4. Booth, A., & Edwards, J. N. (1990). Transmission of marital and family quality over the generations: The effect of parental divorce and unhappiness. Journal of Divorce, 13, 41-57.
  5. Broderick, C. B. (1992). Marriage and the family. New Jersey: Prentice Hall.
  6. Burr, W. R., Day, R. D., & Bahr, K. S. (1989). Family science: Preliminary edition. Provo, Utah: Alexander's.
  7. The First Presidency and Council of the Twelve Apostles. (1995, November). The Family: A Proclamation to the World. Ensign, 102.
  8. Kaufman, J., & Zigler, E. (1987). Do abused children become abusive parents? American Journal of Orthopsychiatry, 57, 186-192.
  9. Kramer, L., & Baron, L. A. (1995). Intergenerational linkages: How experiences with siblings relate to the parenting of siblings. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 12, 67-87.
  10. Magarrell, R. (1994). Becoming a transitional character (Doctoral dissertation, Brigham Young University, 1994). Dissertation Abstracts International, 55 (12-A), 3806.
  11. Masten, A., Best, K., & Gramezt, N. (1990). Resilience and development contributions from the study of children who overcome adversity. Development and Psychopathology, 2, 425-444.
  12. Olsen, S. F., Martin, P., & Halverson, C. F. (1999). Personality, marital relationships, and parenting in two generations of mothers. International Journal of Behavioral Development, 23, 457-476.
  13. Rosenthal, C. J., & Marshall, V. W. (1988). Generational transmission of family ritual. American Behavioral Scientist, 31, 669-684.
  14. Vermulst, A. A., de Brock A. J. L. L., & van Zutphen R. A. H. (1991). Transmission of parenting across generations. In P. K. Smith (Ed.), The psychology of grandparenthood (pp. 100-122). New York: Routledge.
  15. Whitbeck, L. B., Hoyt, D. R., Simons, R. L., Conger, R. D., Elder, G. H., Lorenz, F. O. et al. (1992). Intergenerational continuity of parental rejection and depressed affect. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 63, 1036-1045.
  16. Zeanah, C. H., & Zeanah, P. D. (1989). Intergenerational transmission of maltreatment: Insights from attachment theory and research. Psychiatry, 52, 177-193.

No family is perfect--today or at any point in history. But some families get it right a lot more consistently than others. These families cultivate caring and understanding relationships. They work together, play together, and laugh together. They are unified in purpose and in their commitment to one another. Family members support and encourage each other. Parents are dedicated to the success of their marriage and family. They find happiness in family unity. These families know how to love.

Other families are not so ideal. Members may neglect responsibilities, treat each other unkindly, forsake vows, and engage in physically, emotionally, sexually, or spiritually abusive behaviors. They may be manipulative and critical. Some members may abuse alcohol or other drugs. Family members who perpetuate these destructive practices do so at great cost not only to themselves but to future generations as well. The Family: A Proclamation to the World warns that "individuals who violate covenants of chastity, who abuse spouse or offspring, or who fail to fulfill family responsibilities will one day stand accountable before God" (¶ 8).

While it is sad that dysfunctional families exist, no one is doomed to a life of unhappiness. If you come from a difficult family, you can transcend and overcome negative behaviors that may have been ingrained in your family for generations. As a "transitional character," you can change negative family patterns for yourself and for generations to come.

Passing on family patterns

It's easy to observe that family characteristics get passed on from generation to generation. Research confirms that observation. Simons, Whitbeck, Conger and Chyi-In, for example, found that aggressive parenting in one generation produced a similar aggressive parenting style in the next generation. 19 Vermulst, de Brock, and van Zutphen found that the child-rearing attitudes of parents are very likely to be repeated through succeeding generations. 20 Other researchers have shown that the way a person is parented as a child affects that person's parenting skills as an adult. 16,18,21

Researchers call this passing on of family characteristics "intergenerational transmission." Transmitted traits can be positive or negative. A father who has a passion for baseball would likely pass this love to his sons. The same father might be a harsh disciplinarian, and he would also be likely to pass this pattern on to his sons.

The research of Booth and Edwards suggests that unhappy marriages in the parent generation are related to unhappy marriages in the next generation. 5 Parents who are abusive report high rates of having been abused or maltreated themselves as children. 22 And research on alcoholism shows that it, too, is carried along family lines. 2

While intergenerational transmission is real, the outlook for those who come from dysfunctional families is not as dreary as it might appear. Kaufman and Zigler reviewed many studies to check the accuracy of a widespread belief that abused children are highly likely to become abusive parents. 12 They found the rate of intergenerational transmission of abuse is 30%, plus or minus 5%-a much lower figure than other researchers have proposed. That means a majority of those who were abused as children--two thirds--break the pattern and don't become abusers themselves. 12 Obviously, it is possible to break a negative family trend.

Definition of a transitional character

The alternative to passing on negative behavior patterns and traditions is to become a transitional character. The late Carlfred Broderick, a renowned marriage and family scholar at the University of Southern California, coined the term and described it this way:

A transitional character is one who, in a single generation, changes the entire course of a lineage. The changes might be for good or ill, but the most noteworthy examples are those individuals who grow up in an abusive, emotionally destructive environment and who somehow find a way to metabolize the poison and refuse to pass it on to their children. They break the mold. They refute the observation that abused children become abusive parents, that the children of alcoholics become alcoholic adults, that "the sins of the fathers are visited upon the heads of children to the third and fourth generation." Their contribution to humanity is to filter the destructiveness out of their own lineage so that the generations downstream will have a supportive foundation upon which to build productive lives. 6

Researcher Roberta Magarrell studied six transitional characters in depth. 14 She found that all of them actively sought to discontinue negative patterns and tried to promote healthier family patterns. They did not become transitional characters overnight. It was an ongoing process that took understanding and growth. These transitional characters took stock of their inner hearts and their visible behaviors, reconstructing where necessary. As a transitional character makes the needed changes, says Magarrell, he or she "is able to cast off the burden of dysfunctional family patterns of lifestyles, and as a result become(s) free of the bondage associated with being caught up in living his or her life in a similar manner". 14

How can you become a transitional character?

To become a transitional character, you must decide that the negative family traits you were raised with will end with you. Research has shown that the following factors are characteristic of nearly all transitional characters:

  • Supportive relationships. An important way you can find help in becoming a transitional character is to build a supportive relationship with at least one emotionally healthy adult, especially someone with a strong family background. Life-altering changes are difficult to make alone, but when you have support from someone else, such as a spouse, grandparent, teacher, or minister, it's much easier to interrupt abusive family patterns.1,15 This person can mentor you as you work to counteract the natural tendency to simply repeat family patterns.A satisfying marital relationship often provides a very helpful context for change.22,4 For example, one father found he had a tendency to react with anger to the demanding cries of his toddler son. He also found himself being too physically harsh with his son. His wife intervened, and through discussion together the husband realized he was treating his son as his older brothers had treated him in their single-parent home. This awakening through a supportive relationship was crucial as this father sought to become more patient and gentle with his son, reversing the pattern modeled in his family of origin.
  • Deliberateness. Negative family patterns are difficult to break. Research shows that being deliberate is one of the most important factors in ending physical abuse, emotional abuse, and substance abuse.2,4,14 If you want to become a transitional character, you'll be more successful if you have a conscious plan outlining the specific behaviors you want to change and how you will go about fulfilling your plan. Some professionals call this process "re-scripting"-writing down and then role-playing what you will do when faced with real-life scenarios. You can role play your new "script" with the supportive adult mentioned earlier. Rehearse the script over and over again, and be patient with yourself as you practice the new pattern in real-life situations.Kramer and Baron studied sibling relationships in two generations of families.13 Contrary to expectations, they found that mothers who described negative histories with siblings were more likely to raise children with positive sibling interactions. The authors suggested that these women wanted to make sure their children didn't go through the grief they experienced when growing up, and they sought out positive parenting techniques to help them accomplish this transition. These women are classic examples of transitional characters.
  • Distinct family rituals. Family rituals are a powerful way to provide a sense of unity, constancy, and deliberateness.17 Rituals provide stability to a family, especially when at times it might become chaotic because of negative behaviors such as alcohol or drug abuse. Rituals include regular meals together, bedtime stories, an evening once a week set aside for family fun, and holiday traditions. Researchers found that having high deliberateness and consistent dinner rituals were the most significant factors in preventing the transmission of alcoholism to the next generation.2
  • Healthy emotional distance. All of us are influenced by the people we spend time with. If your family of origin is particularly negative, consider distancing yourself so their impact on your own family is minimized. It's usually not necessary to completely cut ties, but carefully evaluate the situation and keep what distance you need so that you don't unintentionally perpetuate harmful family behaviors. Bitter reported that individuals most successful in transcending a lineage of abusive behavior were those who had resolved their childhood pain and experience and still maintained some ties with their families of origin.4For those with alcohol abuse in their families, researchers Bennett et al. say the following about healthy emotional distance: "Couples with an alcoholic legacy are relatively more protected from transmission if they take certain measures regarding their family attachments. Ideally, contact with the child's alcoholic origin family is not high, although it may remain moderate with no strongly adverse effects".2

Will you be a transmitter or a transitional character?

It is essential for any descendant of a dysfunctional family to stand up, speak out, and stop the transmission of pain from one generation to the next. 3 It's never too early, or too late, to decide if you will be such a person.

The following activity, based on ideas suggested by Broderick, can help you decide what changes you need to make if you want to become a transitional character: 6

Make a list of your family of origin's distinguishing cultural features. For example:

  • family leisure activities (camping, swimming, watching movies)
  • ways of expressing affection (hugging, verbal expression, giving service)
  • child rearing attitudes (time-outs, spanking, logical consequences)
  • political and social attitudes
  • family traditions
  • religious commitments (prayer, church attendance)

Decide which qualities you want to pass on to your own children and which you want to avoid passing on. If you already have your own family, decide together how you will continue the positive behaviors and stop the negative behaviors.
As you made your list, you probably saw things your family is not doing that it should be doing. Maybe you don't have an established tradition for Thanksgiving Day. Or maybe you discovered that you freely tell your children you love them but don't say "I love you" to your spouse. Set goals and decide on a plan to begin doing those things that are important to you. Don't try to do too much at once. Small changes lead to bigger changes.

Further suggestions on becoming a transitional character

Burr, Day and Bahr suggest the following to help you become a transitional character: 7

  • Marry at a later age. People who marry in their twenties have a lot more life experience than those who marry in their teens. An older age at marriage (early 20s or older) and higher education generally lead to happier and more stable marriages.11 Waiting just a few more years to marry gives young men and women more time to learn healthier ways of interacting with others. This additional time is especially important for those who come from dysfunctional families.
  • Read good books about family life. The more you know about what makes a healthy family the better, and reading is a good way to learn. If you come from a troubled family, you didn't see many positive behaviors in your home. You can learn healthier ways of interacting from good books and by trying out ideas from these books in your relationships. Respected authors have written many excellent books with valuable information to help parents, spouses, and children. A list of some of these books is included at the end of this article.
  • Join organizations that can help. All of us tend to become like the people we spend time with, so it's a good idea to be around people you want to emulate. Since volunteer organizations usually attract good people, consider volunteering. Or you might join a group that serves your community or participate in a religious community. Some organizations are more effective than others, so evaluate what best meets your needs.
  • Get an education. A good education teaches you to think clearly and make wise choices. It doesn't matter what you study as long as you're using your mind and developing your intellect. Even taking a few classes here and there from a local community college is helpful. Many communities offer classes on marriage, parenting, and other family issues.
  • Develop a philosophy of life. Identifying what is most important to you and your family can help keep you focused on your goals. Establish your own set of personal beliefs to help you clarify your values, aspirations, and purposes.
  • Get additional help if needed. After doing your best to change negative family patterns on your own, you might find yourself needing additional help. Seek out a professional counselor recommended by others or a member of the clergy who can help steer you toward a transformed future.

Magarrell reported that all of the subjects of her study at some point experienced an enlightened understanding, or a "new knowledge or a new awareness or understanding gained through experience or study". 14 To receive this understanding, transitional characters need to be open to learning, spiritual experiences, and to influences from significant others.

What if I fall short?

Once a person has decided to become a transitional character and succeeds in making beginning changes in his or her lineage, they shouldn't expect smooth sailing from that point on. Magarrell found that all the transitional characters she studied experienced backsliding, or "returning to one of many earlier points in the process of becoming a [transitional character] to relearn something before being able to move ahead in the process". 14 Expect stumbling blocks that you'll have to defeat as you move forward.

Keep trying

Ralph Waldo Emerson made the following wise statement: "That which we persist in doing becomes easier-not that the nature of the task has changed, but our ability to do has increased."

Becoming a transitional character is not something that you arrive at and finish. It is a process. 14 Changing behaviors that have been passed on for generations takes time and effort, but with dedication, those negative behaviors can be eliminated. Research shows that intergenerational transmission is not deterministic. You don't have to be a person like your parents or their parents before them. Although change is not easy, we are all free to choose a new pattern of functioning for our personal and family life. It might help to remember that as a transitional character, you are benefiting not only yourself and your immediate family but possibly hundreds of people: "A tendency that's run through your family for generations can stop with you. You're a transition person-a link between the past and the future. And your own change can affect many, many lives downstream". 8

Written by Kristi Tanner, Research Assistant, and edited by Stephen F. Duncan, Professor, School of Family Life, Brigham Young University.

Additional Reading:

1. Covey, S. R. (1997). The 7 habits of highly effective families. New York: Golden Books.2. Doherty, W. J. (1997). The intentional family: How to build family ties in our modern world. Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley Publishing.3. Gottman, J. M. (1994). Why marriages succeed or fail. New York: Simon & Schuster.4. Warner, C. T. (2001). Bonds that make us free: Healing our relationships, coming to ourselves. Salt Lake City: Shadow Mountain.

References

  1. Belsky, J. & Pensky, E. (1988). Developmental history, personality, and family relationships: toward an emergent family system. In R. A. Hinde & J. Stevenson-Hinde (Eds.), Relationships within families (pp. 193-217). Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  2. Bennett, L. A., Wolin, S. J., Reiss, D., & Teitelbaum, M. A. (1987). Couples at risk for transmission of alcoholism: Protective influences. Family Process, 26, 111-129.
  3. Bergin, A. E. (1988). Three contributions of a spiritual perspective to counseling, psychotherapy, and behavior change. Counseling and Values, 33, 21-31.
  4. Bitter, E. (1992). Processes that promote the transitional character phenomenon . Unpublished paper.
  5. Booth, A., & Edwards, J. N. (1990). Transmission of marital and family quality over the generations: The effect of parental divorce and unhappiness. Journal of Divorce, 13, 41-57.
  6. Broderick, C. B. (1992). Marriage and the family. New Jersey: Prentice Hall.
  7. Burr, W. R., Day, R. D., & Bahr, K. S. (1989). Family science: Preliminary edition. Provo, Utah: Alexander's.
  8. Covey, S. R. (1989). The 7 habits of highly effective people. New York: Simon & Schuster.
  9. The First Presidency and Council of the Twelve Apostles. (1995, November). The Family: A Proclamation to the World. Ensign, 102.
  10. Hall, C. A. (1935). The home book of quotations. New York: Dodd, Mead & Company.
  11. Holman, T. B., Larson, J. R., & Stahmann, R. F. (2000). Preparing for an eternal marriage. In D. C. Dollahite (Ed.), Strengthening our families (pp. 32-47). Salt Lake City, UT: Bookcraft.
  12. Kaufman, J., & Zigler, E. (1987). Do abused children become abusive parents? American Journal of Orthopsychiatry, 57, 186-192.
  13. Kramer, L., & Baron, L. A. (1995). Intergenerational linkages: How experiences with siblings relate to the parenting of siblings. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 12, 67-87.
  14. Magarrell, R. (1994). Becoming a transitional character (Doctoral dissertation, Brigham Young University, 1994). Dissertation Abstracts International, 55 (12-A), 3806.
  15. Masten, A., Best, K., & Gramezt, N. (1990). Resilience and development contributions from the study of children who overcome adversity. Development and Psychopathology, 2, 425-444.
  16. Olsen, S. F., Martin, P., & Halverson, C. F. (1999). Personality, marital relationships, and parenting in two generations of mothers. International Journal of Behavioral Development, 23, 457-476.
  17. Rosenthal, C. J., & Marshall, V. W. (1988). Generational transmission of family ritual. American Behavioral Scientist, 31, 669-684.
  18. Simons, R. L., Beaman, J., Conger, R. D., & Chao, W. (1993). Childhood experience, conceptions of parenting, and attitudes of spouse as determinants of parental behavior. Journal of Marriage and the Family, 55, 91-106.
  19. Simons, R. L., Whitbeck, L. B., Conger, R. D., & Chyi-In, W. (1991). Intergenerational transmission of harsh parenting. Developmental Psychology, 27, 59-171.
  20. Vermulst, A. A., de Brock A. J. L. L., & van Zutphen R. A. H. (1991). Transmission of parenting across generations. In P. K. Smith (Ed.), The psychology of grandparenthood (pp. 100-122). New York: Routledge.
  21. Whitbeck, L. B., Hoyt, D. R., Simons, R. L., Conger, R. D., Elder, G. H., Lorenz, F. O. et al. (1992). Intergenerational continuity of parental rejection and depressed affect. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 63, 1036-1045.
  22. Zeanah, C. H., & Zeanah, P. D. (1989). Intergenerational transmission of maltreatment: Insights from attachment theory and research. Psychiatry, 52, 177-193.

The Family: A Proclamation to the World teaches that "parents have a sacred duty to rear their children in love and righteousness, to provide for their physical and spiritual needs, to teach them to love and serve one another, to observe the commandments of God and to be law-abiding citizens wherever they live. Husbands and wives-mothers and fathers-will be held accountable before God for the discharge of these obligations" (¶ 6).

If you come from less than ideal family circumstances, you need not perpetuate the same negative patterns you were raised with. As members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, we have abundant enlightenment about how the Lord wants us to act in our relationships. LDS insight into the atonement teaches us that each person can become a savior on Mount Zion. We do this by performing ordinances for the dead; the first thing that probably comes to mind. But we also become saviors within our families by reversing longtime damaging family patterns and passing on to future generations more righteous and healthy patterns. Family scientists call a person who does this a "transitional character."

What is a transitional character?

According to the late Carlfred Broderick, a well-known and respected LDS marriage and family therapist, a transitional character is a person "who refuses to pass on the family pattern he inherited" and who "changes the entire course of a lineage". 4 Transitional characters make a conscious choice to break the negative patterns modeled in their troubled families. For example, a transitional character might have grown up in an alcoholic and abusive home, but he or she refuses to perpetuate the cycle of alcohol and abuse. Transitional characters can be found in any walk of life, and they are a powerful force for good in strengthening families.

Church leaders, as quoted below, offer insight into how a person can become a transitional character.

Good habits and study of true doctrine lead to changed behavior

Once you recognize that you need to make changes in personal conduct or in relationships with others, you can move forward in many ways. President Spencer W. Kimball taught that "Change comes by substituting good habits for less desirable ones. You mold your character and future by good thoughts and acts". 6

President Boyd K. Packer emphasized the importance of studying the gospel. "True doctrine, understood, changes attitudes and behavior. The study of the doctrines of the gospel will improve behavior quicker than a study of behavior will improve behavior. Preoccupation with unworthy behavior can lead to unworthy behavior. That is why we stress so forcefully the study of the doctrines of the gospel". 9

To become a transitional character, you must become converted to a new way of life. President Marion G. Romney, quoted in a recent conference talk by Elder Richard G. Scott taught that becoming converted "means to turn from one belief or course of action to another. Conversion is a spiritual and moral change". 10 A new convert to the gospel of Jesus Christ must turn from a previous way of living, perhaps giving up Sunday recreation or unchaste behavior. Likewise, a transitional character chooses to reverse damaging family behavior such as abuse, neglect, or criticism.

President Romney continued, "In one who is really wholly converted, desire for things contrary to the gospel of Jesus Christ has actually died". 10 Thus a transitional character defies negative patterns and desires to act only in ways that promote and strengthen the family. He or she surrenders to Jesus Christ and pleads for a transformation of heart, realizing that, as President Ezra Taft Benson taught, "Christ can change human nature". 2

You can make a change

Church leaders teach clearly that through the atonement of Jesus Christ it is possible to profoundly change and become a transitional character. The adversary would have you believe that change is not possible. "To you adults who repeat the pattern of neglect and abuse you endured as little children, believing that you are entrapped in a cycle of behavior from which there is no escape, I say: It is contrary to the order of heaven for any soul to be locked into compulsive, immoral behavior with no way out!". 9

Through the healing power of the atonement that is freely given to all, we can repent and stop the cycle of sin.

Elder Neal A. Maxwell further reminded us that we all have the agency to choose, and our choices have a ripple effect: "When some choose slackness, they are choosing not only for themselves, but for the next generation and the next. Small equivocations in parents can produce large deviations in their children!" 7

It is important to remember that our actions do not affect only us or our generation. How we live today impacts generations to come.

Follow the example of Christ

The Savior provides the ultimate example of how we should live. "The highest of all ideals are the teachings and particularly the life of Jesus of Nazareth, and that man is most truly great who is most Christlike. What you sincerely in your heart think of Christ will determine what you are, will largely determine what your acts will be. . . . By choosing him as our ideal, we create within ourselves a desire to be like him, to have fellowship with him". 8

As we strive to be more like Christ, we will not be perfect. But, thankfully, through the atonement, we can repent and become better. As we all have need of the atonement, President Ezra Taft Benson reminded us not to be too critical of those who came before us: "Let us learn to be forgiving of our parents, who, perhaps having made mistakes as they reared us, almost always did the best they knew how. May we ever forgive them as we would likewise wish to be forgiven by our own children for mistakes we make". 2

Becoming a transitional character brings peace

Peace of mind comes from righteous living. Elder M. Russell Ballard taught: "One cannot be at peace if one is living a life out of harmony with revealed truth. There is no peace in being mean-spirited or contentious. . . . There is no peace in addiction to drugs, alcohol, or pornography. There is no peace in being abusive to others in any way, whether it be emotionally, physically, or sexually, for those who are abusive will remain in mental and spiritual turmoil until they come to Christ in all humility and seek forgiveness through complete repentance". 1

Be a strong link; Don't weaken the chain

President Gordon B. Hinckley made an impassioned plea to all Saints to become a strong link in their family line: "Never permit yourself to become a weak link in the chain of your generations. It is so important that we pass on without a blemish our inheritance of body and brain and, if you please, faith and virtue untarnished to the generations who will come after us. . . . Life is a great chain of generations that we in the Church believe must be linked together. I fear there will be some broken links. Do not let yourself become such, I pray". 5

References

  1. Ballard, M. R. (2002, May).The peaceable things of the kingdom. Ensign, 87-89.
  2. Benson, E. T. (1985, November). Born of God. Ensign, 5-6.
  3. Benson, E. T. (1989, November). To the elderly in the Church. Ensign, 4-8.
  4. Broderick, C. B. (1992). Marriage and the family. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall.
  5. Hinckley, G. B. (2000). Keep the chain unbroken. Brigham Young University 1999-2000 Speeches. Provo, UT: Publications & Graphics.
  6. Kimball, S. W. (1974, September). There is purpose in life. New Era, 7.
  7. Maxwell, N. A. (1992, November). Settle this in your hearts. Ensign, 65-67.
  8. McKay, D. O. (2001, October). Insights from President David O. McKay. Ensign, 22-23.
  9. Packer, B. K. (1986, November). Little children. Ensign, 16-18.
  10. Scott, R. G. (2002, May). Full conversion brings happiness. Ensign, 25-27.