Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Family of Origin

In talking about feelings and how they drive behavior, I think that for me it is also really important to understand the whole 'family of origin' concept and how it affects our respective feelings and behavior.

It certainly has been a revelation that has truly taken my understanding of myself and others in my life to an entirely new level.

In terms of relationships, I think that two people, a couple - cannot fully join to each other until they have dealt with and understand the influence that each brings to the relationship from their families of origin.

This can hold true for close friendships, I suppose, but I found it was really relevant in my own primary relationships over the years as I think back on the important relationships that I have had in my life.

While connection with extensive family networks can be a great source of support and encouragement, they should never be a controlling factor in the lives of you or your primary relationship with your spouse.

Many spouses are still as connected or even more connected to their families of origin as they are to their spouses. Clear signs of this are when one or both spouses excessively serve the family of origin and allow the family of origin to crash into their lives whenever and however they choose without discussion or restraint.

There are oftentimes no boundaries set on the family of origin’s impact.

Whether geographically close or not, extended family relationships can be unhealthy to a couple's relationship. This enmeshment may show up as an adult child calling their parent several times a day and depending on the parent's support instead of their spouse.

This often means that the spouse is in second place to the parent or family of origin.

I’ve also witnessed and encountered situations where sons and daughters place their parents before their wives and husbands, perhaps insisting for example, that all major holidays be spent with them - and them only.

Families, clergy, coworkers, friends, and acquaintances of all types are capable of damaging individuality. Families can be too distant and detached from one another, but they can also be too close.

It may be hard to picture too much closeness, but closeness can be stifling if you are unaware of the impact it is having on your primary relationship.

When individuals are too bent on pleasing one another, healthy engagement gives way to unhealthy enmeshment.

* Each person has to know what the others are doing.
* No privacy and no appropriate secrets are permitted.
* Gossip is rampant.
* Communication is triangulated.
* People tell one another how to behave and feel.
* People talk for one another.
* People tell others how the others are feeling or what they are thinking.
* One or more family members is overly controlling.
* The family has a “right” way to do things and no other way is tolerated.

Before I heard and understood the term “enmeshed families,” I had developed my own definition for these behavioral traits: a big wad of tangled snakes writhing together and biting each other.

The analogy was based on the realization that such families are tangled in each others' lives to the point that you can’t tell where one starts and the other stops.

They often live from one “biting” episode to another. Perhaps somebody is not talking to somebody else at any given time or creating hurt and issues where none is intended.

It is a cycle of twisted, negative behavior that causes more damage and hurt to a relationship and the family at large as opposed to being nurturing and a truly loving environment.

When extended family units are enmeshed, often individual families are also enmeshed because that’s the way the adults learned to relate to one another.

For instance, enmeshment happens in the parent—child relationship when a child is expected to fulfill the family's choice of career.

Enmeshment happens in marriage when the husband and/or wife isn’t allowed to maintain his or her individuality but is expected to mold to others' expectations.

Enmeshed families often come together to create enmeshed relationships. These families tend to stifle creativity and stick to rigid traditions that aren’t very helpful in maintaining a loving and secure environment for all of the members to flourish as individuals and as members of the extended family.

Individuals unknowingly trapped or willingly kept in their family of origin issues tend to only be interested in defending their “standards” or traditions than seeking truth and living cooperatively and giving respect to all members of the extended family. Oftentimes individual members are sacrificed or punished to maintain the fixed tradition(s) or rules.

If you can see the elements of enmeshment in your family, start drawing healthy boundaries. Put yourself, your mate and your immediate family first.

If need be, explain what’s happening gently to people as you change and adjust within the family group(s).

Give yourself permission to plan a trip away this holiday season. It doesn’t have to be far. Nobody in your extended family will die if you aren’t there, and you and your own family will be healthier for it.

When two individuals are differentiated and secure in their own identities, they can give themselves to one another and become truly integrated and attain the respect and intimacy within the relationship for each other to keep it healthy and alive.

This DOES NOT mean that either member has to abandon their respective families or values taken from their families of origin.

What this DOES mean is that they have a close and stable relationship with their parents and a loyalty to the system in which they were raised, but now they combine their family backgrounds into a new and distinct system where differences in the families and the respective individuals are allowed to exist without being ostracized, punished, disrespected or held hostage by either families' members.

Enmeshment is the opposite of individuality. Take the chains of conformity and control off of you, your mate, and your kids.

Allow and encourage yourselves and your spouses to be who you are and to manifest the strengths that you have to strengthen each other as well as your relationship.

Allow and encourage your children to share their feelings, even if it sometimes involves something negative.

Support healthy communication and teach the giving and receiving of grace.

Strive for happiness and be mindful of others' feelings and treat them as you might want to be treated. Clich├ęd and trite? Perhaps, but who doesn't ultimately want to be treated with respect?

Finally, know when to let loose the ego, let go the fight and to disengage from unhealthy family interactions.

Family is an important, beautiful thing and your family of origin helped to define "who" you are and is equally important if you understand its pros and cons.

With respect, communication and acceptance of all members in the family to be who they are; the twisted snakes will fall away and love, laughter and happiness will reign - building bridges where once dark chasms existed.

You only have your happiness, your spouse and your family to gain.

(^_^)

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