Understanding the Importance of your Family of Origin

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By Sarah Wilson, PhD

Your beginnings matter.

The who and how of your initial life experiences made lasting impressions that ripple through your life today. For better or worse, your family of origin is the place to start for key information about who you are and how you relate to others.

For all of us, the family dynamics in our original family system impact our values, core beliefs, and our self-perceptions.

Long after childhood, how we were once socialized and nurtured continues to guide us. Moreover, the traumas and challenges we navigated within our families at a young age deserve careful exploration. It is an integral way to improve self-awareness and internal understanding.

For some of us, our “family of origin” is simply the family we grew up with. For others, your family of origin includes important caretakers or may even include a first social group, depending on aspects of your culture, social class, and other societal factors that affect who was responsible for raising you.

Overall, the family of origin relationships are profound, initial influences on your decision-making, investment in relationships, and overall sense of well-being.  

Let’s consider in more detail, the importance and impact your family of origin may have on you:

The Importance of Family of Origin

Exploring your family of origin can improve understanding of how your family impacts your relationships now and how to make important changes. Though highly influential, early problems do not have to continually impact your current and future relationships in a negative manner.

Optimally, on a basic level, members of a family should expect that they are worthy of positive and respectful interaction and encouragement. When this works well, the following dynamics are also common:

  • An expectation of physical, emotional, and psychological safety are givens.

  • Each member is empowered to identify as both a family member and an individual.

  • Each family member is empowered to grow into adulthood, with all the responsibilities and consequences that accompany adult choices.

  • Manipulation, aggression, and violation of relationship boundaries are not tolerated or supported.

  • Each family member has a voice, even if a member’s voice is a dissenting one.

However, families rarely execute all of this perfectly.

Depending on how far your caregivers or parents fell short of providing a beneficial environment for your emotional and social development, you may be suffering from issues connected to relationship attachment, emotional safety and expression, anxiety, and beyond. In essence, your family of origin is the standard by which you measure your relationships.

For example, a cycle of neglect and anxiety early on, makes it feel natural to read withdrawal or abandonment into adult relationships later. Unhealthy coping behaviors must be unlearned. Healthy perspectives must replace them.

This isn’t easy. However, it’s worth the work to avoid repeating the negative patterns of your early life.

The Impact of Family of Origin

Still unconvinced that family of origin has such a long-term impact on adults? Let’s consider how the problems below link to early socialization.

Enmeshment Stifles and Suffocates Your Personal Growth

Some families of origin are too close. You may have grown up in a family that brooks no movement away from the family traditions, culture, religion, political beliefs, or resources. You may feel resentful but unprepared for life away from your family. This can lead to depression, broken relationships, and a lack of personal motivation throughout your adult years.

Early High-Conflict, Unstable Relationships Impact Your Ability to Communicate Now

If you grew up exposed to yelling and intense interaction, you may feel that sort of communication is normal or acceptable. Unhealthy relationships and conflict may result in damage to your marriage, work relationships, and friendships. Perhaps, all relationships feel unsafe and untrustworthy to you.

Childhood Trauma can Disrupt Self-perception & Socialization

The after effects of abuse or tragedy are varied and often deeply rooted. Low self-esteem, intimacy issues, depression, and anxiety are common. Working with an experienced therapist is very important for understanding the core beliefs and defense mechanisms activated and affected by physical and/or psychological trauma at an early age.

Experiencing Neglect, Indifference, or an Absence of Love

Did you grow up physically cared for but emotionally neglected? Then you likely made assumptions about your worth. You likely wondered if something was wrong with you, if you were unlovable, or whether you even had a right to love.

As an adult, you may struggle to accept love or trust affection from others, especially a significant other. Or, you may swing hard the other direction. Perhaps you are clingy or demanding, attempting to secure the love you never had.

Awareness through examination of your family of origin gives perspective. Also, you gain the ability to be less reactionary and more intentional about love and relationships. It is critical to get a handle on how your experiences have impacted you. Learn how to create new beliefs, adjust thought patterns, and change behaviors where necessary.
If you’re struggling to determine why you feel a sense of being stuck in your life, professional support can make a difference.

Healing the Past and Creating a New Path

Finally, addressing family of origin issues can help you to live a richer, more deeply connected life. Patterns that negatively impact your relationships and self-image deserve your attention sooner, rather than later. Understanding and resolving your early wounds can help you to gain the internal peace and freedom you long for.

Moving forward with support and the proper tools can bring healing and emotional well-being.

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If you are ready to address your family of origin problems or concerns, please contact Dr. Sarah Wilson, LMFT Associate, at the Relationship Counseling Center of Austin at (512) 270-4883, ext. 104, or by requesting an appointment with her on the RCC Austin Scheduling page.