Defining Your Family Of Origin & How It Impacts You
By Danni Peck
Updated December 13, 2018
Reviewer Tiffany Howard, LPC, LCADC
For all of us, our family has a large impact on who we are, our values, our belief systems, and how we view ourselves. This initial socialization and the bonds created will often have an impact far beyond childhood. When this childhood was involved trauma or other issues, then it can be seen as a family of origin issue.
The definition of a family of origin is the family in which a person grew up. Another way to think of a family of origin is to include the significant caretakers and siblings that a person grows up with, or the first social group a person belongs to, which is often a person's biological or adoptive family, according to Strongbonds.jss.org. They also noted that there are other contextual influences on our families that come into play, such as culture, class, and even social and biological kinships.
Therefore, these relationships can have a profound effect on how you see yourself and the choices that you make. We are going to look at several areas where the importance of family of origin is critical and the impact that it can have.
Family Of Origin - In Your Marriage
When your family of origin was one that provided a relatively healthy and functional environment, then it can be easy for you to make adjustments to accommodate the needs of your mate, as you likely saw that happen in your own family. Marriage is the blending of two different styles of doing things, so there is going to be some give and take on both sides. It can involve making allowances for differences in how tasks get accomplished, versus accusing your spouse of doing things the "wrong" way.
However, if your family of origin struggled with alcoholism, abuse, mental illnesses or infidelity, it can mean that you have to unlearn the unhealthy coping mechanisms and behaviors of your childhood and relearn healthy ones. By not doing so, you can end up repeating the negative patterns that you grew up with.
Adult awareness is different than that of a child. As an adult, you can have the insight to recognize unhealthy and negative patterns. Once you become aware of these unhealthy patterns, you can work with a licensed therapist or certified counselor who can assist you in addressing destructive patterns and behaviors that could negatively impact your marriage and spouse.
Now keep in mind, that coming from a family of origin that lived through a divorce can impact how you each view marriage. While you both might be more committed not to divorce, a child of divorce might be missing key conflict resolution skills or other gaps. These can be overcome or addressed, but it is important to work with a professional to develop those skills and to assist you in addressing conflicts within the marriage, at least initially.
Before you get married, it is important to take the time to recognize what you learned from your family of origin, but what you might not have been exposed to. When you take the time to evaluate and learn from your history, you can then see how your family of origin impacts your current relationship and areas that you might need to address.
Recognizing That Your Spouse Is Not Your Parent
Part of the reality of our family of origin is that we take how our parents treat us and use it as a measure of how well others are treating us. This reality is particularly true when it comes to our spouses. If a parent seemed to neglect us or has created a sense of anxiety within us, it can be easy to transfer that meaning to the actions of our spouse.
However, these misunderstandings can lead to more conflict between spouses, as each spouse misinterprets the actions and intentions of their partner. Acknowledging these different reactions and that they are rooted in our relationships with our parents can take a level of self-awareness that you might not have. Working with a therapist can help you to identify the parallels between the conflicts in your marriage or significant relationships and how it connects to your relationships with your parents.
Common Family Of Origin Issues And How They Translate to Adulthood
Here are just a few issues that can be related to the family of origin and how they can translate into adult issues.
Witnessing High-Conflict, Volatile Relationships
When a child is exposed to constant yelling and bickering as they grow up, they can translate that into a belief that these are normal and acceptable ways to communicate. It may be a natural way to communicate with your partner, which then can create a platform for an unhealthy relationship. It can also be a source of conflict if the other spouse did not grow up in a high-conflict home.
Additionally, these children can grow up with high levels of anxiety and trust issues, believing that all relationships are inherently shaky, and no relationship can be trusted. Therefore, emotional vulnerability for these children as adults could be more difficult. This lack of vulnerability could impact the levels of intimacy in their marriage as adults.
Abuse is a complicated issue, so the affects on children who lived through it can be varied. The results could be low self-esteem, trust issues, and even sexual/intimacy problems. All of these responses could negatively impact their future relationships and create a high level of potential conflict and misunderstanding.
Experiencing a Lack of Love
When a child grows up with their physical needs being met, but a lack of love, they start to make inferences about what is wrong with them that their parents aren't showing them love. Thus, it impacts how they view themselves, making it difficult for them to accept or receive love from others, including a significant other or spouse.
This child can also grow up to be a perfectionist, setting an unreachable high standard for themselves and others. At the same time, they may also struggle to open up about their feelings and share their deepest thoughts with their partners. On the other hand, they may become very clingy, demanding an incessant amount of love, trying to make up for what they didn't get from their parents. However, this can be draining on their partner, as it can become a bottomless pit of emotional need.
What Is Family Of Origin Work?
As an adult, you might be able to identify your family and your relationships in some of the above examples. The question then becomes, what are you going to do about it? Awareness gives us the ability to be insightful about how our family has impacted our patterns of thought and behavior.
Our core beliefs are shaped in large part by our family of origin, so it can be critical to get a handle on how our experiences have impacted us and how to make changes where necessary to create a new belief, thought pattern, or set of behaviors.
Working with a therapist to address these issues can help you to live a fuller, more connected life while addressing patterns that have negatively impacted your relationships and how you view yourself. After all, you may be willing to accept poor treatment from others because of the treatment you received as a child. Many of us do not realize the extent of how our families have impacted us.
Every therapist may address these issues with you in a different way. However, their primary purpose is to help you address your core beliefs and make adjustments to address how those core beliefs are impacting your behavior.
Keep in mind, if you are feeling depression, anxiety, or just "stuck," then you might be dealing with issues related to your family of origin. You may even have a sense that something in your life isn't working, but you cannot make the connection between relationship patterns learned in childhood and your life now.
Working with a licensed therapist, you can begin to make those connections and then learn some new ways to address those issues. Depression and anxiety can be a product of past experiences, but also could be impacted by your current relationships. As a result, it is important to find a therapist that is willing to look, not only at your recent life experiences but even further back in your past to find those key experiences or relationships that could be impacting you right now.
Recognizing Old Wounds And Healing Them
There may also be old wounds that you are carrying around from your childhood that need to be addressed. You might have just stuffed them down and hoped that after a period of time, you would be able to forget or just "let it go." However, if these issues aren't addressed, they can creep into your adult life in surprising ways, but rarely with a positive impact.
Understand that addressing these old wounds could include forgiving yourself and then forgiving others. This process can allow you to redress old hurts and make peace for yourself going forward. Again, this type of work is best done with a licensed therapist, to assist you in addressing and healing these issues.
Family of origin work is about growing in your understanding of how your family impacts your relationships now and how to make changes so that those experiences do not have to continually and negatively impact your current and future relationships. If you want to address your own family of origin concerns, contact BetterHelp to find a licensed online therapist to work with.