Friday, April 25, 2008

Utilize Your Family Foundation

I was talking to a friend today about the importance of family. Some people are closely connected to their families, others are estranged. We were discussing the situation where people basically disconnect with their families, and how although sometimes necessary, this act is often damaging.

It's true that sometimes our families of origin have caused us deep pain. There are wounds of childhood that are extremely difficult to overcome. And yet, that is the work of our lifetimes - to identify and heal from the things that we have experienced that somehow hurt or damaged us.

It is often difficult (although not impossible) to heal when we detach from the family system that caused those wounds. I want to reiterate that in some situations, a person is well justified and completely right to walk out of a family situation and not return. There are some situations that are so toxic that continued exposure is not only unhelpful, it can be lethal.

In most situations, however, there is always something to be learned from repeated 'exposure' to the system. Here's what I suggest to my counseling clients: If you are going in to your family of origin and you know you will encounter unhealthy and destructive dynamics, attempt to do so from a detached, observer position. My teacher and mentor, Dr. Chuck Bruni used to say that we want to walk into those situations as though we were a 'cultural anthropologist' and just notice what is going on without reacting. Observing something disturbing and saying, "isn't that interesting - look at how X just treated Y and how Y responded. I've seen that pattern a lot in my life with this family." We can observe and learn a lot about the positive and negative aspects of our family dynamic without 'taking it on' or 'dissolving into it.'

By looking at what is going on, we can learn to identify and unravel patterns that have affected us both at the conscious level and in our unconscious. This is extremely valuable!

It is important to protect ourselves when going in to potentially damaging situations. Learning to set and maintain good boundaries is essential. With boundaries in tact, we can walk in to the situations of our lives and pasts with the observer's eye and learn about the mysteries of how we came to be the people we are. There is power in that.

Our early family life created the foundation upon which we each stand today. There are positive aspects of that... and there are negative aspects of that. Every person's balance between positive/negative aspects is unique to their particular situation. Celebrating the positive and unraveling/disarming the negative is what life is all about.

Next time you have to walk in to your family, or into any situation in your life that holds potential mine fields, detach and observe. Cease to react and just learn from what is unfolding around you. It is one of the most powerful ways we can reclaim our power in situations that previously stripped us of our strength. We can emerge healed, healthy and whole - just by observing, learning and adjusting based on what we see.

Enjoy the process. It's a bit like hunting for buried treasure!

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