Our Families of Origin

We sat around with some good friends this past weekend and, perhaps inspired by the wine, one of us looked at our neighbor and said, “What words or phrases would you use to describe your mother?” There were 3 women and 2 men. We went around the circle and each of us uncovered our little nuggets – the first words that came to mind. Here in this group of fairly satisfied, positive people in their 50’s, the power of our parents in our psyches rose up luminous. Some associations were painful – “angry” “frustrated” – others were romantic – “brilliant” “loving” – but none were flat. “Mother” and “Father” have the capacity to evoke our deepest feelings, well into middle age and (I’m guessing) beyond. Handling all that in therapy is interesting and tricky. Truly our families of origin have an enormous molding influence on our lives, but as a wise friend likes to say, “It’s fine to look at that past, just don’t stare.” I like that one. I think therapists need to carefully balance acknowledgment of the past that brings a hurting person into our office, with a deep appreciation (honestly conveyed) of its impact – yet at the same time our lives are most definitely in the present and it will be in the future. People who come to us and are hurting are experiencing a painful present and if we are able to work well together, a positive, productive, less painful future is the goal. I heard a therapist say this weekend that people come in oftentimes with the attitude, “I will not be happy until my parents were nicer to me as a child.” The power of this past can never be underappreciated. Yet dwelling on this past in the hope, somehow, of understanding something that will set us free, I believe, is like trying to get some sunshine by heading for the Canadian North in December. Ain’t going to happen. Freedom comes in mastering our lives today – in whatever form that takes for each of us.