“Who came from a functional family?”
It’s one of the questions I like to ask at our premarrieds class. And every so often a brave soul will meekly raise their hand. It’s almost like they are embarrassed, or afraid they won’t be believed. I tell them it’s a good thing. But it’s not a common response.
Lately we have been incorporating a genogram in our counseling practice. A genogram is a type of pictorial family map that traces certain patterns of behavior within the generations of a family. It is sort of like a family tree, but goes beyond family relationships. It looks for psychological factors that affect family systems.
“Is there a lot of anxiety or drivenness in our family?”
“Is there a pattern of alcohol abuse, physical abuse or sexual abuse?”
“Do I come from a long line of artistic people or am I the first?”
Why is this important in counseling?
We can inherit certain characteristics from our families of origin. They range from mild tendencies to deeply embedded pathology. These relationship patterns will often “feel normal”, but may be the cause of dysfunctional or conflictual behaviors. The ability to recognize and evaluate these patterns is frequently the key to unraveling the discord within interpersonal relationships.
Although some mental illnesses can be genetic, many other forms of maladaptive behaviors are “transmitted” through families.
- Is anger the most prevalent response to crises in your family? Is that because that’s the way your generational family has always dealt with chaos? Not all families do that. Where does all this reactivity come from? See Adding Points.
- Do you have multiple divorces or many out-of-wedlock babies in your family? Why? Does your family not trust marriage to be secure or of high value?
- Why do all the males in your family have a problem with authority?
- Why was it so easy for you to accept Christianity, while many others around you seem to struggle so hard with belief?
It’s really exciting to see the light go on in someone when they make a connection that explains a trouble spot. It can relieve the shame or guilt that they have been carrying. And it’s particularly thrilling when it is you that uncovers an obscured pattern in your own life.
I must admit that seeing things on paper really made a difference for me. Yes, I've always known that my family is crazy, but now I know why.