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Oh those growing up years. . . .

Laying in the leaves“Please, God, no more yelling, no more trips to the woodshed.

Treat me nice for a change; I’m so starved for affection,”

Psalm 6 – The Message

Families: it’s where we fight for our position in the sun, vie for Mom and Dad’s attention, fight over toys, learn to make excuses and blame others for our failures.

“He took my fire truck” – “No, she took it.” Or “He hit me first!” “I did not

It’s where we believed that Mom or Dad favored Johnny or Suzie more than me. We may lash out in our perceived injustices, nurse our hurts and believe nobody understands how I feel.

You always take her side – you don’t care about me – you’re mean – I hate you”

Other times, we bury our feelings because we are afraid to express them.

If we are lucky while growing up, there will be a parent, grandparent, teacher or other caring adult who listens, let’s you know you are heard and helps you through those early childhood traumas.

When we don’t, we struggle to work through them on our own. When we hold onto grievances, we  often build protective walls to keep others out. It may then be difficult to know when to trust, who to trust and how to build intimate relationships. Past injuries can fester like a thorn under the skin if left in place.

It’s within those childhood years where we often make unfair comparisons. “I’m not as good as” or “I’m better than you”. Core beliefs about ourselves and the world are put in place that influences what we do as adults until we take the time to stop and examine them from a different perspective.

A Revealing Exercise

When I was teaching, there was an exercise I had my students in my Human Relations college class do when we were studying families and relationships. Each person, with the help of the other students, positioned the members of their family of origin in terms of nearness or distance from each other. It helped to reveal how far some members are pushed away, isolated from one another and remain isolated while others remain in a close proximity with each other.

You can do a similar exercise by using blocks or other objects to represent members of your family. Position them in terms of closeness or distance.  Who was outside the basic circle of the family? Who had a special close alliance that made you feel excluded?

To understand the influence your family of origin may have had on your relationships today, explore the following:

1.   Where am I in terms of distance or closeness in my family?  Was I the one pushed away?   Did I have a special relationship with a parent or grandparent? Did the family in general interact with each other in some way?

2.   Check with one of your siblings, parent or grandparent about the dynamics of the family as you remember them.  How do your recollections compare with others in your family? Were they similar or very different?

3.  Were your parents separated?  Did you feel responsible for that as a kid?  Children often feel it is their fault when parents have difficulties or divorce when in reality they had nothing to do with it. If you have such feelings, tell yourself what happened with your parents was a result of their inability to resolve problems and maintain their relationship.

4.   What grudges, grievances or injustices do you still have regarding a member of your family? How does that poison your feelings about others? Letting go of grievances does not mean an automatic restoring of a relationship.  But it offers that possibility. (read my 4-1-15 e-newsletter entitled, “Stress and the Gift of Forgiveness”.

5.  What patterns of behavior do you want to continue today that you experienced as a kid?  Which ones do you want to reverse or eliminate?  Put together steps of action you want to take to accomplish this.

While many things contribute to how we relate to others, our families are one of those important influences. Exploring and understanding the dynamics of our families of origin can help us build more positive relationships today.Sometimes we can build bridges. Sometimes, there is only a broader understanding of events. And that may be enough to create a new dynamics for yourself today.

Marlene Anderson

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Also in the RELATIONSHIPS series:

Part 1: Relationships: Who Needs Them?

Part 2: Relationships: Where Do We Start?

Part 3: Relationships: Love Them or Hate Them

Part 4: Relationships Book Feature: Tales of Two Sisters


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