Tuesday, April 15, 2014

{Family of Origin Part 1}

I have a small pocket of time to work on another post for the addiction series.  As you can guess from the title, this one is about the families we have come from.  NOW...I want to make it very clear that I am in no way opening this up for a parent bashing post or comments. :)  I have yet to meet a perfect parent.  I hope my kiddos will evaluate their upbringing and take what they liked and discard what they didn't.  I expect them to make changes...maybe even before they leave home.  That is okay.  The purpose of this post and the reason this was so vital to our steps of recovery is to recognize where we have come from.  By looking at our families, we can often see how/why/where many of our core beliefs came from, as well as our behaviors and choices.  This may not be easy for some, especially if it's the first time you have thought about it or had some major difficulties with family or your upbringing.  "There is in the worst of fortune the best of chances for a happy change." (The ancient philosopher Euripides)  Mark and I both have been working on this heavily and it has been very difficult for us, but has been such a blessing as we have evaluated and made decisions about what we want for our own little family and what to pass down to our kiddos and what to not continue.  There is no judgement and there is no blame.  Truly taking time to consider this can help with not only picking out the "negatives," but also the "positives" and gives us the opportunity to learn from others, both what worked and what didn't.

There are two types of family systems: open and closed.  Most families mix and match and are rarely 100% one or the other. It's also not uncommon for the family systems to change from open to closed and back and forth depending on circumstances or what is going on in the family at the time.  Think about your family and see if you were generally one system over the other.

Flexible; okay with change
Full expression of feelings
Does not allow all feelings to be expressed
Differences of each individual celebrated
Family identity---no individual identity
Mistakes are opportunities to learn
Mistakes=bad person
Roles are picked by individuals
Roles are picked by family system
Family system there for its members
Family system there for the family
Family encourages development of individuals
Family more important than individuals

If your family system (and I suggest looking at the family you grew up in as well as the family you may have/be creating now), feel more often on the closed side, children often have shame-based feelings and really struggle with their self-esteem/self-worth.  More on shame in a separate post.  Look at how your family functioned and you may be able to see some effects in your life (again negative as well as positive).  If you had something very traumatic as a child, even if you came from an open family system, you may still need additional help.  Often, many with such experiences make it through childhood relatively okay (but again, may not), but eventually it will need to be addressed, and depending on the severity, maybe with additional help whether it's a bishop or professional.  If you are finding deep emotions through this that are more than you can deal with on your own, speaking with additional help with be vital to being able to process this and work through this.

Hopefully you are able to think of examples from your childhood where you saw both modeled and you know what it looks like and feels like.  Maybe you could even think as a parent or a spouse of examples from your current family of both family systems.

There are two parts of the family system that the family's effect has on an individual: cohesion and adaptability.  The better these two are in balance, the better the chance the members of the family will grow healthy self-esteem and learn moderation in their lifestyle.  Like mentioned in most posts on addiction, there is often so much shame, guilt, and low self-esteem associated with addiction.  Looking at these components can shed some light on how these feelings towards self may have developed.

Family adaptability is just that.  Is the family able to adapt when changes arise?  Although it sounds simple, it effects quite a few things for the family.  There are four areas on the scale of adaptability:

Authoritarian leadership; control; strict rules and roles
Mix of authoritarian and equalitarian; stable rules and roles(This is positive discipline)
Equalitarian leadership; some decisions made together; rules and roles easy to change
Sporadic and not effective leadership; Inconsistency on rules and roles

Again...where did your family growing up fit and where does your family now fit?  Sometimes, again, it may change based on what is going on in the family at the time and sometimes parents will swing from one extreme to another as well.

Family Cohesion  is bonding of the members of the family, but also how separate they are as individuals.

Complete emotional disconnect between family members
Individuals outside family
Working together, but some individuality
No individual, extremely close, know everything all of the time, do everything together


For both adaptability and cohesion, the healthiest families tend to stay balanced with both.  Families that are in the extremes, tend to have a higher chance of developing addictive behaviors. This doesn't mean they every person who came from an extreme family will, but our group counseling has gathered extensive data on this and it's about 2/3 of the group counseling clients were raised in families that fell in the extremes.  As children interact with the important adults in their life, they are making decisions about a few things (this goes clear up to teenagers as well).  Am I good/bad?  Is the world safe/unsafe?  Can I make good/bad decisions?  Individuals raised in extremes usually have a difficult time with trusting their own environment.  Often this lack of trust for their primary environment results in resorting to addictive methods to ease their pain (see the post "On addiction and co-addiction")

I could go into more detail, but am nearly out of time.  If you have further questions, post a comment or e-mail if more comfortable: willis.katy@gmail.com

Every family establishes rules, many may even be unspoken.  Rules generally fall into the open and closed at the beginning of this post.  Often rules have a large effect on emotions---what is/isn't allowed how it is/isn't allowed to be expressed and how family members may/may not respond to other family member's feelings.  (This goes especially for a when a family is dealing with a problem...and by the way...most family's problems are constant even if they are big/small or serious/no big deal).

Here are some unhealthy rules.  Again, think about your upbringing and also think about rules you may have with your current family:
Don't talk.  Don't feel.  Don't express emotions.  Don't get mad.  Don't confront.  Don't correct.  Don't challenge.  Don't say anything if you can't say something nice.  Don't air dirty laundry.  Be perfect.  Always look good to the rest of the world.  You're never good enough.  You must please others at all costs.  Pretend.  Just be happy.  Don't make waves.  If you can't do it right, don't do it at all.  Don't stir the pot or rock the boat.

I do want to share a few quick thoughts from a gospel stand point and then the rest of family of origin will have to wait for another pocket of time.

Just like we have a family of origin on earth, I've thought a lot about our spiritual family of origin...this is all just my thinking, so take it for what that may mean to you! :)  I touched on both thoughts of what I want to say at the end of the last post, but think both are very appropriate to mention here.  The first family of origin is that we are offspring of God.  Because we are His offspring and not just creation, we have the potential to become like Him.  We were once glorious beings and if we could simply have a glimpse of what we were like before coming to this earth, it would blow us away!  We knew that in order to become fully like Him, this mortal journey would be essential to accomplish that.  We are literally His children and just as children grow up to be like their parents, we also have that potential.  That leads to the second family of origin worth mentioning.  We did once have His divine attributes and we can once again posses them, but for now, we simply don't! :)  Because of the fall of Adam, we have had our natures changed.  Just as the above post can help us see why we may be the way we are because of our upbringing from our family, remembering our fallen natures can also help shed some light on that exact thing.  Just as we wouldn't want to judge or blame or shame, many of the things we struggle with on a daily basis are because we are fallen being, imperfect in every way.  We need to have balance with this and be humble enough to recognize it in our lives, but also not constantly beat ourselves up about it.  Our fallen nature is the very reason we so desperately and personally need a Savior.  If we allow Him to, He can change our hearts and our desires.  We cannot do that for ourselves.  We cannot break cycles or make changes, but He can fill us and make that happen for us. I have witnessed Him change things in my life and heart, many of which I thought were impossible.  I am eternally grateful for a loving God and the beautiful plan of happiness---that He gave His son for not only all mankind, but also for me.  

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