Saturday, May 29, 2010

Are You Just Like Your Family?

I have been reading and thinking about how our family of origin affects us in profound ways and influences so many of our decisions, emotions and as well as our overall level of anxiety.

As much as I would like to believe that I have worked to be free from the negative pulls of my F of O, I can see how it still rears it’s persistent head when I am faced with higher levels of conflict. When an inevitable conflict arises, my internalized family system kicks in and I am reduced to feeling the feelings of my more immature self. The rule here is: ‘Under stress, we regress’. My challenge is not to give in to these feelings but to operate from my fully differentiated adult self.

What this means is managing my anxiety and not becoming reactive to the presenting conflict. This is easier said than done, but quite necessary if I am to operate at the levels of maturity that is required of me as an adult husband, worker, leader and friend.

I found the following excerpt for the book “The Leader’s Journey” by Jim Herrington, R. Robert Creech, and Trisha Taylor to be very helpful when dealing with our families of origin – so I will quote it verbatim.

“To be truthful, most people are less interested in focusing on their own challenges in being a self and are more interested in changing the others in their family. Understanding family interactions becomes just one more set of tools to be used in the effort to exchange the family they have for the family they want. The problem is, families resist even the best efforts of their members to force change, and as the family polarizes, change becomes even less likely.""

"The phrase ‘I’m going to confront my family about….’ is a sure sign that the focus is on changing the family and not on differentiating self. Another tip-off is the question ‘How can I get my family to…?’ Overfocusing on the failings of the family – and there are usually plenty – is another way we keep the spotlight on our desire for our family to change rather than on our ability to change within our family. However much we might want them to, family members almost never change by being confronted, manipulated, or blamed."

"Even as we say ‘I know I can only change myself,’ many of us harbor the slightly irrational belief that if we can only say the right things or do the right things, the people in our families will change for the better. This may occur, but it cannot be the driving energy for our efforts. We have many options as we seek to keep the focus where it belongs, which is on ourselves."

  • We accept the challenge of changing self as we relate to our family, without taking on the impossible task of trying to change the family.
  • We let our own thinking be known in the family without trying to force the family to adopt it.
  • We pay attention to our own past contributions to our family’s situation as well as to our own current choices.
  • We avoid relating to the family as priest or therapist, but only as self.
  • We accept that this is the family we have instead of struggling against this reality.

"These are perhaps the most difficult aspects of differentiation of self to maintain.”

The wisdom in these words is deep reaching and takes time to really absorb – but the results of living them is priceless.

1 comment:

  1. It seems, though, that the goal of the family is to reproduce, with me being the product. That constant tension IS what produces the anxiety. How are we to be AND not to be at the same time? You have really produced food for thought here, Dave. Thanks, and excuse me while I dine.