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Understanding How Your Family Functions


Secrets of Your Family Tree, Chicago, IL: Moody Press, 1991) p. 15. The Family Defined ... people in your family tree -claim wealth in family background. Quote ... – PowerPoint PPT presentation

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Title: Understanding How Your Family Functions

Understanding How Your Family Functions
  • Family Seminar
  • by Trevor OReggio

  • Most of us have experienced some pain and anguish
    in our family of origin, some more than others.
  • Why not just leave our families behind?
  • Why not forget about them and go on with our
  • We cant walk away and pretend our families never

  • As children, we tend to mold our personalities to
    adapt to our environment. If our environment is
    supportive, nurturing, and flexible, we are freed
    to express our own individuality. If your
    environment is rigid, demanding, and conditional,
    however, we are forced to shape our behavior to
    fit the needs of others. We substitute our true
    self for a false self that is more acceptable to
    our parents, whose love and approval we need
    desperately. In essence we compromise who we
    really are, and become what our parents need us
    to be.
  • Laurie Ashner and Mitch Meyerson,
  • When Parents Love Too Much,
  • (New York, NY Avon Books, 1990), p. 53.

  • You may feel that your family or origin wasnt
    dysfunctional since your father wasnt an
    alcoholic . . . . The truth is, however, that,
    due to the fallen nature of all parents (and
    children), all families are flawed and therefore
    dysfunctional to a certain degree. Addictive and
    compulsive behaviors (addictions to food, sex,
    work, and so on) are extremely common in even
    the best of families, and such behavior is
    almost always linked to some form of
    dysfunctional family background.
  • Dave Carder, et al.,
  • Secrets of Your Family Tree,
    Chicago, IL Moody Press, 1991) p. 15.

The Family Defined
  • A family is more than a group of individuals who
    happen to share the same address and same last
  • Riddles of why you are the way you are can be
    unlocked by looking at the family as a system of
    relationships and interpersonal dynamics.

  • Many of us left home, defiantly vowing, Ill
    never do it like my parents. Unfortunately, we
    are what we learn, and eventually, somehow, our
    parents manage to take up residence inside us.
    Only later as adults do we discover that we have
    never truly left home. In fact, in many ways we
    are just like our parents, who played the same
    game, different nameyet all products of a
    codependent heritage, Lost in the shuffle.
  • Robert Subby, Lost in the Shuffle,
  • (Deerfield Beach, FL
  • Health Communications, Inc., 1987) p. 92.

The Family Defined
  • Organism
  • A family is not merely a collection of separate
    individuals but an organism in which attitudes,
    values and actions of each member interact with
    those of all the other members.

  • The Family as a System
  • The family firm is a sacred, social society, in
    which each member is to act a part, each helping
    the other. The work of the household is to move
    smoothly, like the different parts of
    well-regulated machinery. AH 179.4

  • The Family as a System
  • Every member of the family should realize that a
    responsibility rests upon him individually to do
    his part in adding to the comfort, order, and
    regularity of the family. One should not work
    against another. All should unitedly engage in
    the good work of encouraging one another they
    should exercise gentleness, forbearance, and
    patience speak in low, calm tones, shunning
    confusion and each doing his utmost to lighten
    the burdens of the mother. . . .

The Family Defined
  • Organism
  • Many of our behavior patterns, both healthy and
    unhealthy, flow from the role we occupy in our
    particular family system.
  • When we understand our family system and the role
    we play in it, we unlock emotions and behaviors
    that would otherwise seem impossible to explain.

  • The shame-bound family system is fixed in its
    form and highly resistant to change, even though
    change is a natural fact of life. This system is
    analogous to peanut brittle, with each person
    fixed in stereotyped, inflexible roles and
    relationships to one another . . . . When change
    exerts enough force all at one moment upon a
    rigid system, it may break and splinter. The
    shame-bound system does not have good capacity to
    absorb very much stress and still retain its
  • Merle A. Fossum and Marilyn J. Mason,
  • Facing Shame Families in Recovery,
  • (New York, NY W.W. Norton, 1986) p. 19.

The Family Defined
  • System
  • Linear vs. Interactive Thinking
  • for every action there is an equal and opposite
  • -if I do A then B will happen
  • -kicking a can and kicking a dog
  • -predictability vs. unpredictability

The Family Defined
  • Everything occurring in a family,
  • regardless of how carefully it may be hidden,
  • impacts the children. Everything.

The Family Defined
  • System
  • Linear and Interactive Thinking
  • Push resistant phenomenon
  • Importance of punctuation
  • Biblical example Eph 428
  • Change the punctuation
  • Change meaning of passage
  • Our understanding of an event depends upon mental

The Family Defined
  • Donna understood what was happening like this
  • - He withdraws, I nag.
  • From Freds perspective
  • - She nags, I withdraw.
  • Both Fred and Donna are punctuating things
    according to linear thinking in which there is a
    single cause and a single result.

The Family Defined
  • Donna nags ?? Fred withdraws
  • (Cause) (Effect)
  • Fred withdraws ?? Donna nags
  • (Cause) (Effect)
  • This is the normal simplistic way to look at
    relationships but relationships are interactive
    in nature and require that we think in terms of
    feedback loops.

The Family Defined
  • Feedback Loops
  • The value of seeing things as feedback loops is
    that it makes clearer that either party can
    change the situation by changing his or her

The Family Defined
  • Donna nags
  • Fred withdraws Fred withdraws
  • Donna nags

The Family and Change
  • What makes families change?
  • There are many factors, some normal and some

The Family and Change
  • Life Cycles in Families
  • Birth of first child
  • birth of other children
  • first day of school for oldest child
  • day the youngest child finishes school

The Family and Change
  • children leave home
  • parents reaching retirement age
  • caring for elder parent
  • death of a parent

The Family and Change
  • The life cycle gives families ample opportunities
    to change but family systems like most systems
    are resistant to change.

The Family and Change
  • Inertia principle of homeostasis
  • This is our bodies ability to adjust to hot and
    cold conditions. Family systems work the same
    way. Once a pattern of relationship gets
    established in which everyone is assigned a role
    powerful powers within the system will work to
    keep things the same even if circumstances
  • Case study the daughter who just couldnt leave

The Family and Change
  • Family Secrets
  • What are the forces that keep families locked in
    dysfunctional patterns?
  • Inertia
  • Family Secrets

The Family and Change
  • Family Secrets
  • Family secrets are things that have happened and
    may still be happening that family members know
    about but no one ever talks about.

  • First and foremost, children are taught to disown
    what their eyes see and what their ears hear.
    Because of denial in the family, childrens
    perceptions of what is happening become
    progressively and systematically negated. Overtly
    or covertly, explicitly or implicitly, they are
    told not to believe what their own senses tell
    them. As a result, the children learn to distrust
    their own experience. At the same time, they are
    taught not to trust other people.
  • Herbert L. Gravitz and Julie D. Bowden
  • Recovery A Guide for Adult Children of
  • (New York, NY Simon Schuster, 1985) p. 19.

The Family and Change
  • -some shameful events in the past
  • - some illegitimacy in the family
  • -incest among family members
  • -sexual abuse, emotional and physical abuse
  • -family member stricken with some terrible
    disease such as AIDS, insanity, physical
    disability, mental retardation

The Family and Change
  • Conspiracy of silence
  • Family secrets buried so deeply if brought to the
    surface they could tear the family apart
  • family secrets are like having an elephant in the
  • you learn at a very early age that the one
    question you never ask is Why do we have an
    elephant in the parlor?

The Family and Change
  • Family Myths
  • Family myths are the opposite of family secrets.

  • What is common to all such families is the
    commitment of all family members to maintain the
    secrets through rigid rules about what may and
    may not be talked about. These rules prohibit
    spontaneity in the family relationships with
    spontaneity the real feelings and facts might be
  • Family members create powerful myths about
    their histories, often leaving out the painful
    historical shapers of the shame. The children in
    these families are loyal through their lack of
    questioning about the past, thereby colluding in
    the familys rules.
  • Merle A. Fossum and Marilyn J. Mason,
  • Facing Shame Families in Recovery,
  • (New York, NY Norton, 1986) pp. 45-46.

The Family and Change
  • Family Myths
  • Myths are things we talk about but never do.
    Bernard Shaw, Family History A Life Agreed Upon.
  • -our family was very close
  • -claiming important people in your family tree
  • -claim wealth in family background

  • As adult children of dysfunctional families we
    operate in a world of extremesalways seeking
    that healthy balance, the Golden Mean, but always
    seeming to fall short of the mark. The pendulum
    swings to one extreme and we feel lonely,
    isolated, and afraid. We tire of this, and it
    swings to the other extreme, where we feel
    enmeshed, smothered, and angry.
  • John and Linda Friel,
  • Adult Children The Secrets of Dysfunctional
  • (Deerfield Beach, FL Health
  • Communications, Inc. 1988) pp. 17-18.

The Well-Adjusted Family
  • All families are imperfect, but some families are
    healthier than others. How can you measure the
    ways in which your family fell short of the ideal
    so as to better understand your own need for

The Well-Adjusted Family
  • Fusion vs. Distance
  • emotional glue between families vs. withdrawal
    and emotional distance, maintaining the balance
  • Family Problems vs. Personal Problems
  • Mutual Respect and Tolerance for Defense

The Well-Adjusted Family
  • Generational Respect
  • Traits of a Healthy Family
  • What are the traits of a healthy family?
  • (See handouts Characteristics of a Healthy

The Well-Adjusted Family
  • Types of Dysfunctional Families
  • Isolated Islands
  • Shared same last name and address but totally
    detached from one another
  • Most severely disturbed pattern of family
  • Most negative impact on members
  • Relationship devoid of emotional content
    existing only for utilitarian purposes

The Well-Adjusted Family
  • Generational Splits
  • Lack of significant interaction between parents
    and children

The Well-Adjusted Family
  • Gender Splits
  • Men and boys stick together as do the woman and
  • Little emotional interaction across gender lines
  • Strong notion of sex based roles.
  • mens work and womens work

The Well-Adjusted Family
  • The Family Scapegoat
  • Someone becomes the blame for the family
    problems, lightening rod of family
  • Scapegoat illustration from OT
  • He just doesnt fit in.

What About My Family?
  • Family Inventory.
  • See handout Family Inventory.

What About My Family?
  • Adaptability Scale
  • Chaotic Adaptable Rigid
  • 6 7 8 9 10 11
    12 13 14 16 18

What About My Family?
  • Attachment Scale
  • Disengaged Attached
  • 6 7 8 9 10 11
    12 13 14 16 18

  • Family Patterns and Family Sins

Principle of Balance
  • Balanced Triangle
  • Everyone involved in it is comfortable
    with all the others there is no reason for
    it to change.

Principle of Balance
  • Unbalanced Triangle
  • A relationship of three people who do not
    get along is hardly a relationship at all.

Principle of Balance
  • Balanced Triangle
  • Two aligned parties draw their
  • strength from their
    mutual dislike for the third party.
  • Ex. Moses, Aaron and Miriam

Principle of Balance
  • Unbalanced Triangle
  • One person has a good relationship with
    two other people who dislike each other, is by
    nature unbalanced.

  • Everything occurring in a family, regardless of
    how carefully it may be hidden, impacts the
    children. Everything.
  • Robert Hemfelt and Paul Warren,
  • Kids Carry Our Pain, (Nashville, TN
  • Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1990), p. 70.

  • Characteristics of a Healthy Family
  • 1. It is balanced it can adapt to change.
  • 2. Problems are handled on a family basis, not
    just an individual basis.
  • 3. There are solid cross-generational
  • 4. Clear boundaries are maintained between
  • 5. People deal with each other directly.
  • 6. Differences are accepted and encouraged.

  • Characteristics of a Healthy Family
  • 7. The thoughts and feelings of others are
  • 8. Individuals know what they can give to, and
    receive from, others.
  • 9. Maintaining a positive emotional climate is a
    high priority.
  • 10. Each family member values the family as a
    good place to live.
  • 11. Each learns from the others and encourages
  • 12. Individuals are allowed to experience their
    own emptiness.

Forgiveness Quotes
  • One of the roots of compulsive behavior is pain
    that is buried. Pretending that it isnt there or
    that it doesnt bother you anymore wont solve
    your problems. Stoicism isnt the answer. Facing
    your past and forgiving those who wounded you is
    the only lasting solution . . . .
  • When buried memories surface, they need to be
    dealt with. It is important to forgive the parent
    who hurt you and the one who didnt protect you
    from the hurt.
  • Nancy Curtis, Beyond Survival
  • (Lake Mary, FL Strang Communications, 1990) p.

Forgiveness Quotes
  • Forgiveness breaks the cycle. It does not
    settle all questions of blame and justice and
    fairness to the contrary, often it evades those
    questions. But it does all relationships to start
    over. In that way, said Solzhenitsyn, we differ
    from all animals. It is not our capacity to think
    that makes us different, but our capacity to
    repent, and to forgive. Only humans can perform
    that most unnatural act, and by doing so only
    they can develop relationships that transcend the
    relentless law of nature.
  • Philip Yancey, An Unnatural Act, Christianity
  • (April 8, 1991) p. 37.

Forgiveness Quotes
  • But think about who your anger is hurting most
    Its you, as you wallow in your inner turmoil and
    bitterness. Forgiveness enables you to become
    fully freed from your anger so that you can
    develop as good a relationship as possible with
    your parents. Then, you will also be free to move
    forward positively in other relationships.
  • Anne Grizzle, Mothers Who Love Too Much,
  • (New York, NY Ivy Books, 1988 pp. 207-208.

Forgiveness Quotes
  • Forgiveness involves letting go. Remember
    playing tug-of-war as a child? As long as the
    parties on each end of the rope are tugging, you
    have a war. But when someone lets go, the war
    is over. When you forgive your father, you are
    letting go of your end of the rope. No matter how
    hard he may tug on the other end, if you have
    released your end, the war is over for you.
  • H. Norman Wright, Always Daddys Girl,
  • (Ventura, CA Regal Books, 1989) pp. 235-236.

Forgiveness Quotes
  • Remember that no matter how you verbalize your
    anger you must forgive! Forgiving starts with an
    act of the will. Forgiving is a choice. It may
    take some time to work through the emotional
    feelings that are involved. We cannot immediately
    dismiss the feelings. Again, it takes time to
    reprogram our computer. It takes time to
    reprogram the feelings. However, we can forgive
    others immediately by an act of the will.
  • Frank B. Minirth, M.D. and Paul D. Meier, M.D.,
  • Happiness is a Choice,(Grand Rapids, MI
  • Baker Book House, 1978) p. 156
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