Life in the family of origin (the family a person is born and raised in) is a tremendously powerful experience for everyone. And the impact of that experience is not restricted to childhood. The way we see ourselves, others, and the world is shaped in the setting of our family of origin. The views we develop there stay with us throughout life.
At some point, most of us leave our families of origin physically, but we rarely leave them emotionally. Even if you put an ocean between you and your family of origin, or never return home again, you will continue to re-enact the dynamics of your original family in any new family you establish. The specific content may well be different, of course.
For example, you may do many of the very things your parents did, even though you always swore you wouldn’t. No doubt your parents swore the same thing about their parents, who swore the same thing about their parents, back to the first cave man and woman who swore they’d never be the apes their parents were. At times, this decision to be different can take interesting turns.
One of the most difficult things in life is to gain emotional separateness from that powerful early family environment and not continually repeat it or react against it.
How Families Work
A family is not just a collection of individuals who simply “do their own thing.” A family is more than the sum total of the persons in it, just as the hand is more than the sum total of five fingers and a palm. Each finger on the hand develops its own “personality” in relation to the rest of the hand. If one finger is lost, the whole hand is affected and can no longer function as it has; each finger has to adjust to that loss and learn some new functions.
Families are the same way, but a lot more complicated than fingers. Each family member develops a unique personality, but not in a vacuum. Your personality developed in relation and response to the other personalities in your family. And all of their personalities developed and changed in response to yours. Every member of a family, whether it’s mother in the same room or great-uncle Henry who ran away to Australia 30 years ago, affects every other family member in some way. Nothing happens in isolation in a family. If one member of a family gets sick, the other members are affected and adjust to it in some way. Then the sick member adjusts to their changes, which brings about further change. It can go on and on, like a hanging mobile being blown and shifted by the wind. Every time one part of a mobile adds or loses weight, or moves toward or away from the center of gravity, all the parts hang off balance until the changed part returns to its original place or the other parts adjust themselves.
Every time a family member gets in trouble with the law, does well academically, gets a promotion, has a baby, or is hospitalized, the rest of the family compensates. This compensation happens whether the original change is good or bad. The change itself creates the imbalance that causes other family members to scurry around trying to restore the equilibrium.
To learn more about how to create better family relationships by understanding your family of origin read our best-selling book by Dr. Ronald W. Richardson, Family Ties That Bind, available on our website, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Chapters Indigo, and in better bookstores in the US and Canada.