Family of Origin: Is Your Past Influencing Your Now?
I had no therapeutic background when I joined Evoke in 2006 as an Intern Wilderness Field Instructor. I had not even read a single self-help book. I had a degree in Recreation Management and knew that I loved working with youth. Therapy was a brave new world that I was stepping into. And coming into that world, I held firm to the thought that the past is the past and it can’t be changed.
On the spectrum of childhood experiences, I would say that I "had it pretty good" and felt that I should just "get over" anything that wasn’t quite right. I didn’t have any obvious large-T trauma during my childhood such as sexual/physical abuse, natural disasters, or substance abuse. And even though I had low self-esteem, struggled to create meaningful connections with others, and dealt with anxiety, I couldn’t see a direct link between my struggles as an adult and how they were rooted in my past.
For me, connecting the dots between my family of origin and my current day struggles has not always been clear or easy. That is a commonality that I have with a number of our Finding You participants. I am frequently asked, "I had an overall positive childhood…will I actually get anything from this?" My answer is always and enthusiastically, "Yes!"
Over the years I’ve come to discover that children will always be vulnerable to negative experiences that they have when it involves their family of origin. They simply don’t have the same cognitive ability to process the events around them in the same way that an adult does. At certain developmental stages as a child, we believe the world is all about us (even when it might not be!), and that can cause us to misconstrue information. We might think we are the cause of the negative experience.
For example, remember that scary fight that your parents had? You may have mistakenly attributed it to something you did. Or do you recall that time that your father went away for a while? You might have thought that was a reaction to something you did wrong. This skewed thinking can also happen with large-T traumas. As an example, sometimes people who have experienced abuse believe that they could have avoided the mistreatment if they had done something differently or been a "better child." It’s situations like these and others that can be damaging and cause our inner-child to hold onto false beliefs about ourselves that can last well into adulthood.
Through the years I’ve learned a couple of things about examining my past to find better healing:
1. I was right all those years ago. I can’t change my past. No one can.
2. BUT if I explore my past and the false beliefs that I applied to myself as a child, I can intentionally unlearn those things that are no longer serving me as an adult.
As the Program Director for Evoke Therapy Intensives I’ve had the honor of witnessing fundamental shifts in how our participants view themselves after digging into their family of origin work. It amazes me the strength that our participants have as they walk into our program, refuse to minimize their past just because "it can’t be changed," and courageously build a new relationship with themselves. If this work resonates with you on any level, I encourage you to join us. Your life is yours to live without the shadow of the past hanging over your present and future.