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We learn about relationships in our family of origin.
Our view of self, others and the world are shaped there. Family dynamics are very powerful. Patterns of behaviors are repeated from generation to generation.
How we deal with differences within our family of origin can have a major impact on how we relate today.
No family is perfect – no parents can meet all the needs of their children. When you are born, you leave a safe, warm environment and enter one that produces pain, discomfort, and stress.
As we you grow up, you go through predictable, developmental stages with certain tasks associated with them. None of us complete these tasks without some problems.
A family is the total of all the people associated with it.
Our personality develops in relation to others in our family. Every exchange influences other members as well.
Rules in the family are often unspoken and can be confusing or contradictory.
- Unspoken rules are not openly acknowledged or agreed upon. If talked about, they will often be denied, yet have the greatest impact.
- Spoken rules can be openly discussed, negotiated, and changed.
We discover ourselves within our relationships.
The way we interact with each other and the way others react to us is how we learn who we are.
Deprived of communication with others, we would have little sense of identity. By interacting and communicating, we learn how to relate in social circles, develop a sense of inclusion or belonging, and a desire to share and influence. We learn to have some power over our own life in the process.
Within our social relationships we fill the very important need for acceptance and inclusion and develop respect and regard for ourselves and others.
As we enter adult relationships, we are unconsciously drawn to people who resemble those in our childhood. We are drawn to similar patterns of behavior – almost like a magnet, we seek partners who treat us in similar ways as our caregivers did.
Our childhood and the relationships we had with others during those growing-up years impact how we relate today.
- How did people communicate around you?
- Were there ongoing arguments and name calling?
- Were you put down and labeled “stupid” or some other discrediting names?
- Or were you encouraged and helped?
We bring those things with us into adulthood.
Exploring our past gives us information about how to communicate more effectively.
We can process and heal old wounds and replace uncomplimentary language. We may not always find the answers we want, but can find enough clues to help re-direct, fix or change dialogue today.
In dysfunctional families there is an absence of nurturing, which often leads to shame and abandonment. There are boundary violations and rigid, dogmatic thinking that isolates members. There may be a rule of silence which means you are not allowed to discuss problems.
The 5 categories of needs
Maslow suggested that human needs fall into 5 categories and each of them must be satisfied before moving to the next one.
Those categories were:
- Love and belonging needs
- Self-actualization needs
We can simplify it by saying that to be healthy, we need to have self-esteem, the desire to believe we are worthwhile, valuable people with the potential to accomplish things, and self-actualization.
Social isolation is one of the most intense cruelties.
Solitary confinement is the worst of punishments and studies have shown that healthy individuals can become psychotic after only 24-48 hours of solitary confinement.
To relate or connect, we need to communicate.
Relating is communicating in some way with other people. Communication can be intentional or unintentional, deliberate or non-deliberate.
Have you ever lost your temper or made a careless comment that you wish you could take back? But are you aware that your nonverbal messages can be just as powerful, and in many cases, more compelling than what you say?
It is impossible not to communicate.
Communication is an ongoing process. We are sending messages to other people all the time through posture, gesture, distance, body orientation, and clothing.
Facial expressions, such as signs of boredom, sour expressions, body stances, arms crossed, and every other nonverbal behavior is communicating.
Silence can reflect anger, contentment, or fatigue.
How do you determine if the message you are receiving is the message that is actually being sent?
Patterns are repeated from generation to generation.
Children growing up with an alcoholic parent are only too aware of how destructive addictions are on the family. We swear we won’t repeat the same mistakes. Yet, more times than we want to recognize, children growing up in alcoholic families end up marrying an alcoholic or someone with an addictive personality.
The words we heard, the accusations and labels we were given, the lack of love expressed – either verbally or non-verbally – all hugely influence who we are. These words, actions, and labels are too often repeated unless we become aware enough to make changes.
Whether we like it or not, we tend to repeat what we are familiar with. It is what we know.
But we also grow up with positive experiences.
These are often forgotten because the unpleasant was so powerful. There are those times when we were told we were important… that we did something right… that we could do it – those times when we felt encouraged and uplifted.
While it’s important to recognize unhealthy patterns, it is even more important to acknowledge those times when we felt good about who we were and strengthen them.
What are your earliest positive relationship memories?
Perhaps it was with a special friend, a listening grandfather, or an encouraging teacher. Perhaps you had fond memories of a pet you could talk to, hug, and who would be there with you through thick and thin.
What made those relationships special? What was important?
Perhaps it was loyalty, the confidence that you could share anything and know it would be kept confidential.
The assurance that you could be vulnerable and confide your fears and know you would still be accepted.
Perhaps, it was that someone would listen. Or that you could spend hours with someone who shared the same interests as you and never be bored.
As you think about what was important and valuable in past relationships, can you duplicate some of that today?
- Who do you hang around with?
- Can you build trust today by first being a good friend to yourself?
Take some time and decide what is important to you in a relationship. Then ask yourself, “Given where I am today, how can I begin to bring that about?”
You can’t change others. You can only change your own behaviors. But your behaviors influence those around you.
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