Families ideally bring safety, structure, and stability to our lives.  However, families are not perfect.  In fact, many of us experience some good and some bad while growing up.  Many of us experience dysfunction.  Regardless, our families of origin effect how we engage in our adult relationships.

Family of origin is the group of people you grew up with and lived with.  It’s the first social group you were a part of.  This group typically consists of your primary caregivers and siblings, but does not necessarily mean you’re biologically related.  Additionally, your family of origin can include other people too such as grandparents or cousins.

What Do I need to Know About My Family of Origin?

Early experiences shape us as adults.  Your family of origin teaches you about living, socializing, relationships, and how to cope with life stressors.   For example, if you grew up with frequent visits from friends and family, as an adult, you may believe it’s normal to have your loved ones come to your home to spend time together.  Family experiences and relationships can have profound and complex effects on us as children.  They influence many aspects of who you are and how you live presently.  Aspects such as your worldview, how you function and cope in your life, and how you form and maintain relationships.

Why is My Family of Origin Important to My Current Relationships?

What we learned while growing up in our family of origin can carry over into our adult lives.  Some of these things can create issues for us.  This can include emotional problems, mental health issues, unhealthy relationship dynamics, beliefs that negatively impact us, abuse or neglect, and low self-esteem.  Consequently, you may find yourself struggling as an adult when these issues go unresolved.

Family of Origin Experiences and Dynamics Influence Our Adult Relationships

As children, we are wholly dependent on our caregivers to meet our needs.  And if they meet our needs and how they meet our needs forms a basis of understanding relationships.  This not only includes understanding relationships with others.  It also includes our relationship with ourselves.  There are critical relationship skills to be learned as we’re growing from children to adults.  Our family of origin plays a large role in how we develop these skills.   Some of these skills include a sense of belonging, developing and maintaining trust, creating intimacy or closeness with others, cultivating positive self-esteem and sense of positive self-worth, and practicing healthy communication.

There’s no blame here, but for some of us, what we learned (or didn’t learn) isn’t working in our adult relationships.  For example, if it was typical for your family of origin to distrust others and so they didn’t have close relationships outside of your home, as an adult, you may come to believe others outside of your family aren’t to be trusted either.  Subsequently, this belief may impact your behavior in relationships, making it difficult to become close with others or pulling away when you become uncomfortable with the closeness that has developed.

How Do I Work Through Family of Origin Issues?

Once you become aware of how your family of origin experiences are presently affecting you and your relationships, there are a few strategies you can use to manage any issues that may arise.

  1. Talk with someone in your life or family for support.

You may want to ask questions about your family of origin, gain a new perspective from someone outside of your family, or simply share how you’re thinking about something from your past as it’s playing out in your life now.  Where in your relationships do you feel the most heavily influenced by your family of origin and why?

2. Take a new perspective on things from the past.

To do this, you may consider some broader pieces of your family of origin’s experience while you were growing up.  You might consider how political, economic, social, physical or cultural factors influenced your experience and other generations in your family.  How does this deepen your understanding of who you are in relationships today?

3.  Reflect on your role in your family of origin.

While growing up, what was your role in your family?  What role did other family members play?  How does this influence your relationships now?

Getting curious about your experiences in the past and how they inform your present relationships may be a good starting point.  It may be you can easily identify how to best move forward once you become aware of how you operate in relationships.  However, for some of us, therapy can be a productive way to explore our past, identify current struggles, and develop skills to help create and maintain healthy relationships.  If you’re ready to dive into your family of origin work, you can learn more about our services and contact us here.

Photo credit:  Vidal Balielo Jr. from Pexels