Healing Wounds of Family Origins
Why things break down and what to do about it.
Perhaps the most significant wounds for us to heal are ones relating to our biological families. For this reason, I'm using "we" because this is truly a universal, human issue. It's especially pronounced in this era of upheaval and uncertainty.
Relationships break down when the family culture sets conditions for love and acceptance—requirements every member knows are present whether they are voiced openly or covertly. Dysfunction in familial relationships happens when members who claim to love us believe that we must be like them in order to be acceptable.
Being “right” in conventional tribal thinking has many layers of meaning depending on the culture. A primary one that is often present across the board is the belief that we must conform to familial norms to be acceptable. The downside is that the standards to which we are pressured to conform are often based in fear, which does not create fertile ground for healthy growth and bonds.
Feeling we must change or hide who we are in order to be loved and accepted creates deeper wounds.
When we conform to be accepted, we do not create harmony. We simply make a disavowing trade—personal abandonment for familial acceptance.
The same is true with our families of friends or work families. Betraying ourselves to be accepted in any situation will not lead to trusted and fulfilling relationships or good health. For this discussion, though, let’s continue with our root tribe.
Relationships that deny our authenticiy end up vitiated by buried secrets. Whatever is feared to be judged and criticized is often hidden, and what we hide owns us. We spend so much energy trying to maintain an acceptable story line that we cheat our lives. How do you unlock your limitless potential if you're limiting yourself to be what others expect of you?
When family members judge each other’s differences, communication tanks. Some get aggressive and others who hate conflict retreat. In order to hang in there (such as with holiday time) we lean on superficial conversation, sports, or a movie to help pass the time.
There is no real freedom in betraying our very existence—our true nature, our authentic loves and inclinations for the sake of acceptance. Inevitably, we whither with anger and resentment the longer we abandon ourselves and each other over our differences. At best, familial relationships may retain surface cordiality, but they will not thrive in the way every heart truly desires. Facades work well for movie sets, but they will never create healthy, functional homes in life.
Though we might agree that fake-polite interactions are better than aggressive conflict, let’s not overlook the pain of superficial pretenses or underestimate the depth of wounds that can form below peripheral pleasantries. We know when we’re not truly accepted; it’s a feeling that underlies every exchange and speaks louder than words. That dynamic is painful, and commonly, we don’t feel safe to be completely authentic in the presence of rigidity.
It is incredibly frustrating and disheartening to be at odds with family members. For the sake of our health, it's essential to remember that no one can hurt us with their opinions unless we allow it. We are all in charge of our emotional status unless we're giving that power away.
How to Maintain Equilibrium in the Presence of Disharmony
We are better off in the midst of conflict when we can see both sides of an argument and understand why people think the way they do, even if we don't agree. The big challenge is not getting emotionally triggered when judgment heats up. How do we do that?
Being 100% honest, we can admit that we’ve all been both characters—the “judged” and “judger,” the “guilted” and the “guilter.” It is hell for each side; and the only way out is up. If we want peace and unity with others, we must up our game from shaming and blaming to acknowledging and accepting our innocent differences.
Innocence is being who you are, joyfully, without regret. It is living without need to manipulate situations or people for personal gain. The purity of innocence is soul-fully moving and magnetizing—a rich foundation upon which to build healthy relationships. It’s a quality of unconditional Love each of us deserves—one that embraces peoples’ innocent interests, desires, and dreams, regardless of how they may differ from our own.
How do we address painful disparity in the family dynamic in a way that is more than simply coping? By that I mean truly healing emotional wounds at the root. There are many ways, and sometimes we need assistance clearing the complexity and quantity of them.Totally understandable. For today, I’m offering four foundational guiding points to start the process of self-healing. The first step is helping the intellect relax and embrace the process. That can be the hardest part! The following 5 keys guide our "smart parts"to chill and open to possibilities. Starting off, it's worth mentioning this general tip...
If you focus on the stories of peoples’ words and actions, you’ll get distracted chasing symptoms rather than healing the core issues.
Acknowledge. Release. Reframe. Recognize. Protect.
1. Acknowledge that fears and suffering are pointers for healing. Emotions that are triggered show us what aspects have not been resolved. What is revealed is healed when we attend to it with love and compassion for ourselves. Love and compassion softens inner constriction and decreases the intensity of emotional and physical pain.
2. Release through open-ness. A closed system will not come back into balance since it creates stagnation rather than movement. A faucet comes to mind as a helpful metaphor. When the valve is opened, water flows. It is released. So, a supportive visualization might be to imagine opening a valve of where you feel pain and see it flow out and away from your being. Let it flow until you sense, feel, or see it run clean.
3. Reframe forgiveness. We often hear of forgiveness, which may be helpful for some. While helping several thousand people over the past two decades, I have found that many people struggle with forgiveness for many reasons. Some feel that forgiveness means letting someone off the hook who doesn’t deserve it or conceding that the person was justified in what they did. Others feel vulnerable to being hurt again if they forgive.
The list is vast, in my experience, of reasons people tend to repel from forgiveness. People often say, “Well, I should probably forgive them, but I’ve just not been able to do that.” Some have set conditions for forgiveness such as a requirement to receive an apology. That's a flawed expectation, though. What if an apology never comes, then what?
If forgiveness is a struggle for you, drop it and reflect on simply releasing instead. Releasing, as a word, doesn’t usually carry emotional baggage of rigid belief systems.
Releasing is simply an inside job between me, myself and I. It involves giving loving attention to my stressful emotions for the sake of releasing them permanently. Self-healing does not require bringing others into the process. For example, if someone rams into you and you end up with an open wound, you don’t clean it by assigning blame to the perpetrator. No, you get sterilized stuff to clean it and create the best conditions for it to fully heal.
The equivalent of using sterilized tools in emotional healing is keeping your process free of blame or analysis of who’s right or who's to blame. Effective healing is removing the dirt of judgments (theirs or ours), releasing all painful thoughts and emotions that come to the surface. Intuitively, you’ll know when it’s done.
4. Recognize, people are doing the best they can do right now. I had a client push back to this saying, “Bull sh*t, he knew better and did it anyway!” Unfortunately, knowing better, often times. has little influence on doing better. No doubt, we can all remember things we did (and likely regretted later) even though we knew better. I knew in college that eating a pint of ice cream before bed, regularly, was not a choice that would support my weight loss goals. These kinds of choices happen on every level from the small stuff to the serious.
Knowledge is gaining information; wisdom is applying it. That comes with maturity. Maturity involves doing the inner work to heal our wounds so that we are free from stressful responses to life, such as comfort eating late at night. Mostly, we know what lifestyle choices are healthy and which are not. The challenge we share is figuring how to break unhealthy habit patterns, whether it is addiction to worrying, using substances, or binging on social media. The fundamental key to breaking any habit is awareness. Recognition.
As it relates to family, let us recognize and have compassion for the fact that nearly everyone is struggling with inner turmoil and has adopted some habit pattern to try and cope. Unfortunately, most of these patterns do not lead to permanent healing. In fact, most are attempts to escape pain, which is the opposite of resolution. The way out of pain is leaning into it with love and compassion. This is part of releasing (a.k.a forgiveness).
Most of us are trying to get to the same place—freedom from anger, resentment, blame, etc. The first step is finding guiding words that your mind doesn’t fight against. If you’re like me, recognizing and releasing, may feel more “doable” than forgiving. Once the mind surrenders to the healing process, you can relax into your heart where self-healing really happens.
Finally, releasing pain and having compassion is not a set-up to be walked on. It just means we lay our burdens down, not our wise discernment about setting healthy boundaries.
4. Protect what is sacred to you. This means giving space between you and someone who is dishonoring you, criticizing, or dampening your dreams. It’s not our business to change others, but it is our business to honor ourselves by protecting that which is sacred to us. When emotional invasions happen, rinse and repeat the first three steps, and the fourth one, too, when needed.
This is powerful work, and when you dare to embrace it with all your gorgeous self, your life changes in ways you can’t imagine. When family members commit to this process, even a little bit, renewed vibrant life begins to return to the home.