Q: How much of an influence does your family of origin have in life?
A: Family experiences don’t explain everything in mental health; genetic tendencies often play a role, and free will is also at work. Every issue presented in therapy can be addressed at least in part by examining family of origin experiences, both positive and negative.
Q: What kinds of issues do family of origin problems include?
A: Many clients seek therapy to address family of origin issues. It may be for purposes of coming to terms with the past, or for learning to deal more effectively with their family of origin today, or sometimes for purposes of interrupting generational patterns in order to provide a more healthy marital and family system for their children and grandchildren. Family of origin issues may include such issues as having grown up in alcoholic or chemically dependent family systems, witnessing domestic violence, having lost a parent through death, having an absent parent, being adopted, being a child of divorced parents or having had step-family issues, being a survivor of childhood neglect or emotional/physical/sexual abuse. Other issues also may include having a parent with rage problems or workaholic tendencies, growing up in a family system plagued with eating disorders, having a mentally ill parent or a sex-addicted parent, or having been brought up with a strict religious orientation that somehow causes conflict for the person in adulthood. All of these and numerous other situations are reasons that clients may seek counseling.
Q: How can therapy help family of origin issues?
A: Therapy can begin to unravel our coping mechanisms and help us to see better why we do certain things, make certain choices, hold certain beliefs and experience certain emotions. Understanding that can then help us overcome our fears, pursue our authentic goals, and achieve some sense of peace. Severe abuse or neglect in the family of origin can lead to serious, persistent difficulties. Therapists are trained to help clients overcome the distress associated with neglect, physical abuse or sexual abuse in the family of origin.
Q: How does my family of origin affect my relationships and marriage?
A: Spouses bring their extended families into their marriages, whether consciously or unconsciously. Each one of us is a product of our family of origin, and the issues that we struggle with contribute to our adult personalities. If we sought out our parents’ attention through perfection as a child, we may well continue to strive to achieve perfectionism for our mate. Additionally, we may put our own unrealistic expectations on a partner that is unaware, unable and ultimately unwilling to live up to them. Bringing unaddressed family of origin issues into a marriage can create relationship problems that are often confusing and overwhelming to both partners. In order to fully understand the behaviors we exhibit in our adult relationships, we must first become familiar with why we developed those behaviors in our childhood.
Q: Is there hope for overcoming family of origin issues?
A: You can't change the past but you can make peace with your past. Recognize any dysfunctional family roles you've played and decide to let the past stay in the past. Once a storm passes and the sun breaks through the clouds, a beautiful rainbow adorns the sky! The rainbow reminds us that there is always hope … even after the most violent storms.
If you have been wounded by the storm of family pain, God gives you this promise: "I know the plans I have for you … plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future" (Jeremiah 29:11 NIV).
Psalms 27:10 When my father and my mother forsake me, Then the Lord will take care of me.
1 John 3:1 Behold what manner of love the Father has bestowed on us, that we should be called children of God!
John 10:10 The thief does not come except to steal, and to kill, and to destroy. I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly.
Isaiah 41:10 Fear not, for I am with you; Be not dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, Yes, I will help you, I will uphold you with My righteous right hand.
Romans 15:13 Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.