Here’s a question to get your thinkbuds working.
Do you hear a lot of people go ‘You act exactly like your mom/dad!’ when they think of you? I don’t usually, but the one-in-a-million chance that I do, I find myself spiralling into an internal monologue of panic. Don’t get me wrong, my parents are great people, pretty stand up and ever so generous!
However, I haven't always seen them like that.
I remember growing up and making a list of all the things my parents did that I would not want to be or do. But clearly with the maturity of age (and therapy), I see things differently and my memory has definitely changed some of the narrative. Now, I love catching myself - especially when something that seems so habitual - ends up switching gears. I realised some time ago that I was focused on not being something - in fact, I may have overlooked a lot of things they did right and things that make them great people. But obviously, the trek to this realisation was painful, even though it made me accept a lot of things about myself that I learnt from them.
You’ve clearly read about my fascination (read: mild obsession) with The Bear, and I am back again for yet another deep dive into the show and its myriad teachings about life.
It’s funny how each episode unearths something new about the human psyche every single time. In fact, the uneasy flashback episode (Fishes, Season 1 Episode 6), was really something - to the point that I am still struggling to articulate it. The episode focused on a Thanksgiving throwback of what life was for the Berzatto family, however, not too far back, just to the last celebration when Micheal was still alive. The chaos and volatility and the baiting that went on this one day sets a stage for imagination of how things were most of the time. The various roles the mom and the three kids had and their dynamic with each other. Even the obligation of being part of this very toxic dynamic was highlighted. This episode gave me so much context of what was possibly happening inside of Carmy’s head and the possible influences of it. You can see that none of the children were spared from the impact of that day. I had to mentally take a step back to process and break down the family dynamics and interactions to make sense of the episode and Carmen.
When looking at Carmy’s family dynamics, I could almost feel like I was stuck with him in it. He seems like he is in a pattern of familiarity, abuse, and chaos which he just can't seem to get out of - to a point that he even ends up choosing a career path where everyone accepts the toxic culture of speed, abuse, conflict, and bullying - as one sees in the kitchens of a restaurant.
At the family dinner in the episode, Carmy gets an offer to get out of there and start afresh, but you still find him hesitating. Merge that passivity and avoidance and familiarity together, and you get a tough trio that makes it really difficult to even process what is happening. I get him at that moment; I would dissociate too if I were him.
We can see him checked out a lot in this episode; the mere act of removing himself from the chaos is a coping strategy he is very familiar with. But that also tells us that he doesn't actually want to be there. He wants something different.
I can’t deny the fact that he finds support in the midst of all this chaos - giving him a choice to choose differently even at work - with Claire and Sydney each doing their bits to add more stability and calm to his personal and professional lives (regardless of his volatility) in the gentlest of ways possible. Or at least as gentle as they can be with him (he’s a lot to handle, so I’ll give them the small wins).
It makes me think of the ever-so-annoying line that gets thrown around Pinterest boards and frou frou discussions - that if you really want to be successful, you need to go through war (or Hell and back) to have achieved what you desire. Like every obstacle you have to overcome, you do not get to work through it.
By the end of the second season, we get a better understanding of what he’s up against in his family and people around him. We can see the element of dissociation comes up a lot in and out of the kitchen. We can also see how he denies his feelings ever so often and almost switches off when he is a chef. There is a disconnect between ‘who he is as a person’ and ‘who he is as a chef’. And you can see that happens a lot even during (the many, many) crises in his family - the constant zoned out look when he’s at the dinner table.
Breaking down his family structure also made me realise that Carmy has a functional side - the side that shows that he’s actively doing his best and trying to break out of these familial patterns in small ways - like giving everyone respect in the kitchen, being compassionate to his close ones, trying to be more communicative, even reaching out to Sydney to ask her to come back, dating Claire even when he wants to run away, etc.
Everything said and done, Carmy seems like he is always in an internal conflict of figuring out what he deserves. We can see differences and similarities between various members of their family - they seem to have very different manifestations of addictive behaviour and numbing their pain - his mother is an alcoholic, his brother also turns to drugs, while Carmy turns to a (slightly) lesser evil - his work.
We can see his mother having extreme mood swings from having a good time to sobbing; from not taking help from everyone around her and getting angry that she has to do it all to delegating and pushing people away; from being over the top in what she making to seeing no point in anything she is doing; But she eventually ends up having a mental breakdown and rams her car into the house. The significance of that crash metaphorically - bringing us to see her breaking point; even with his brother - who reaches his breaking point by ending his life.
When you look at Carmy, you can see him fighting the urge and wanting to be different - you can see him struggling with terrible communication skills but still asking for help and reaching out; attending AA meetings to better understand his brother’s addiction and dealing with his pain; the catastrophic push but eventual openness to pursuing a romantic relationship with Claire.
Familial patterns of coping are difficult to break, but that doesn’t stop him from slowly taking accountability and acting for himself. It’s a great start - him confronting his belief that he doesn’t deserve good things (unlike his mother, who drowns in it while isolating herself) and making small actions to do better for himself; regardless of everyone who couldn't nurture his value.
I really do love his growth through the show - actually everyone’s growth through the show. In all, this show is a great starting place to reflect on behaviours and I had an absolute field day with this one!
The debate of nature vs. nurture really blurs the line when it comes to family because they are our genetics as well as our primary environment. Would this mean that we are doomed for all eternity? I would hope not. Self-work is an act of breaking patterns and nurturing the self. We are who we want to be and we definitely choose it when we are independent adults. I hope that, like the show, we all choose to believe we deserve better and we work on ourselves, and most importantly, choose what is the best way to nurture ourselves. We have within us; variants of all these people (and more): our parents, their parents, their parents and a ton of past generations.
At the end of it all, we are also what we choose to keep within us and what we let go off. See, we all have a bit of Carmy in us, struggling to make headway through the chaos that nurture throws at us.
But only you get to decide: what choices are you making to keep and let go?