How Your Family of Origin Influences Your Life
Originally posted as: How You Were Raised Matters [January 2017]
Today I want to talk about your family of origin – or FOO as I like to refer to it.
The family that you were raised in, even if it wasn't typical or a recognized family for that matter, has a huge influence on how vibrant and powerful you are today. This is really important to understand because once you are aware of the influence your upbringing has had on you, you can decide if you want to make changes to your behaviour today.
As well, your family of origin inﬂuences your family of creation. Identify the things that were done in your upbringing that you would prefer not to repeat, and use that information to guide you in making changes with your current family.
Before we jump too deeply into this topic I would like to take you through an exercise designed to help you reflect on who you are right now and where you are headed with your relationships. You might want to do this in a setting where you can take some time to reflect and maybe even have a pen and paper for writing down things that come up.
Exercise: Setting Life Priorities
You are ninety years old, sitting in a rocking chair looking back over your life. Think about the things in your childhood that made you feel safe, secure and happy. Even if you had a difficult childhood, there will be things that helped you feel this way (an older sister who let you sleep in her room; a dog that you cuddled with; a spot in a tree in the backyard you would hide in, etc) so don't skip this part…really think about what helped you to feel safe, sheltered and able to carry on. See if you can come up with 3 words to describe you at 7 years old: Shy, Timid, Afraid, Outgoing, Adventurous, Curious, Resilient, Tough, Optimistic.
Watch your life play out before you like a ﬁlm highlighting successes, challenges and disappointments. Fast-forward to your late teen/young adult years – especially once you moved away from home.
What were you like in relation to others (roommates, boyfriend/girlfriend, etc)? Are you bossy? Strict? Do you have lots of rules?
Or… Are you the messy, disorganized one - super relaxed with no rules at all? Are you somewhere in between – some rules, but pretty flexible.
Are you consistent in this, or do you waffle back and forth between relaxed and frustrated by the chaos? Just notice without judgment or regret.
Be really honest – you are the only one who can see the film you are watching.
What 3 words describe you now? Decisive, Leader, Controlling, Fun, Flexible, Relaxed, Go-getter, Sarcastic, Damaged
Now, let's zero in on the moment you find out you are going to be a parent – whether it's a bio parent, single-parent, teen-parent, step-parent, adoptive parent, etc. Think about the feelings this news creates for you. What are your dreams or wishes for the future?
Continue to move forward in time. Your kids are growing, learning to walk and talk, starting school, maybe joining in extracurricular… now they are 7 years old. If you're not here yet in real life, use your imagination to see where things are heading.
How do you treat them? What kinds of things do you do to help them feel safe, secure, and loved? How much do you work … play … stop to just enjoy? What 3 words does your 7 year old use to describe you when talking to his/her friends? Fun, Busy, Mean…
Keep on traveling forward. Your kids are moving out, maybe marrying or having children of their own.
How do they treat you, their partner, and their own kids? Do they like you? Is work dominating their lives? Do they come to visit you? If so, do they do it because they want to or out of obligation? Do they still talk about you? What are they saying now?
You’ve reached retirement and moved into old age. How important is your job to you now? Do your previously close colleagues still call? Do you feel like a valued member of society? Did you live the kind of life you were hoping to live or did you get caught up in the pressure of it all?
You are ninety looking back. Do you like what you see?
If you could write your whole story, what would you change? While there might be things that seem impossible to adjust in your life, there are little things you can do to guide your life in the direction you would prefer to go.
Sticking to priorities is a tough task for all of us. Life seems so urgent most of the time, but if we don’t live now, when will we?
The idea behind this setting life priorities exercise is to get you thinking about your life from a big picture standpoint. It's so easy for us to get caught up in the many tasks we have vying for our attention on a daily basis and to put the really important things on hold. Unfortunately, this does not work in our favour… so I strongly encourage you to put your energy into creating the life want, rather than leaving it to chance.
If you came up with your three words each time I asked you to, then those words can help to guide you when it comes to healing past issues, releasing blocks and changing the path you are currently on… so you might want to keep them for future reference.
Remember in the exercise when I asked you to zero in on what your home life was like, and specifically what you were like when you moved away from home. This is the part that is most important for our discussion today, because I want to help you really tune in to the influence your FOO has on who you are and how you behave with your family.
Identifying your family type
Families come in all shapes and sizes and the factors inﬂuencing how they will look are pretty much endless. The stressors you face, the support system you have, and the generation you are raised in are just a few of the things that will affect the unique style of your family.
Listen to the podcast to find out the most common family types; how they affect who you are today; the qualities of a balanced family and more.
In reality, few—if any—of us would ﬁt perfectly into this balanced family mold for long. Life is about ﬁnding balance, not about being perfectly balanced all the time. Growing and learning, as well as independence and conﬁdence, grow out of imbalance and the eﬀorts we take to ﬁx it.
If you are not aware of how your family of origin inﬂuences you, it can be very frustrating, not to mention guilt-producing when you keep doing things with your kids or partner that you don't like – especially when those behaviours are not even aligned with your personality or being the parent you really want to be.
The good news…of all the challenges parents face when they come to me for assistance, this is one of the easiest to target and make immediate, positive changes. If you haven't already, download the worksheet I provide below and use it to help you ﬁgure out where your family is today so you can become aware and continue building the kind of family you really want to have.
If you struggle doing this on your own, set up a complimentary discovery call with me and find out how I can help you make quick and effective changes today!