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What is your family type?

This post is for anyone and everyone who has a family- which means all of us!


I would like to invite you to explore what your family type is and learn how this can affect you. Additionally, you might be a parent who is trying to break the intergenerational trauma cycle. At the end of this post, there are some suggestions that might help you deal with difficult people in your life.


Chaotic

People who took care of me suffered from issues relating to drug and/or alcohol use. They may also have been financially and emotionally unstable at times resulting in an inability to be present and emotionally available. I did not get much time and attention directed towards me. My needs were not valued and I felt invalidated most of the time.

Perfect

My family life was regarded as the perfect one compared to all my friends. This was because my caregivers minimized negative emotions such as anger, fear, sadness etc. They would ridicule me or make fun of me when I cried, got frustrated or displayed my emotions in any way that was seen to disrupt the perfect family image. As a result, I have difficulty controlling these emotions and wonder if everything is my fault and due to me being a bad person (character flaw).

Typical

Caregivers in my home wanted the best for me. In order to do this, they would try and control my emotions, thoughts and time in a very intense way. I had strict routines and rigid boundaries to uphold and only achievements such as those related to monetary gain, academic success, performance in sports or other skill mastery were praised. Controlling my emotions is of utmost importance! However, I was never given any tools to help me manage emotions.

Ideal

Trust is built through caregiving as they listened to my thoughts, emotional concerns, and fears. They were patient with me and encouraged me to follow my passions, hopes and dreams. Whenever I experienced painful moments, they were patient and allowed me to express myself without ridicule or blame.

Source: Fox, D.J. (A manual for understanding and managing co-existing conditions, including depression, bipolar disorder, psychosis, ADHD and PTSD; Complex BPD, 2022)


How does this affect you?


My supervisor compares relationships to a three-legged race. I think this analogy can be applied to most families and relationships that we have with family members. For example, if your dad is depressed or angry, it might make you depressed or angry too. However, you might not recognize that his mood is not about you but because you live with him, it is inevitable that you will take on the distress that shows up in him or other family members.




This results in you not being able to move forward in your own life as high emotional states seem to show up all the time within your nervous system. You now have two choices - leave or work with it. Depending on our situations, leaving might not always be a good idea, especially if you have no one else to go to or, in this case, if he is your primary caregiver. In adulthood, it is difficult for us to find perfect safety and ideal conditions. You might have a difficult boss, an angry co-worker or kids that belong to your partner whom you are co-parenting. Life is unpredictable, chaotic and most of all, emotionally draining.


What can you do?


As a therapist, I see many clients struggle with family members. Often, they want to be close to loved ones but they are unable to escape the pain and drama that comes with being connected to them. My suggestion is to


  1. Identify your family type (chaotic, perfect, typical, ideal)

  2. Identify what your skills are in handling conflict (e.g. people pleasing, walking away, fighting, listening, holding grudges etc.)

  3. Identify what you did not get from the relationship

  4. Decide on whether the person will be receptive to talking about issues (truthfully, I have met very few families who will come together to hash things out)

  5. If not, can you form new relationships with them and have healthier boundaries?


Where therapy comes in


In therapy, I regularly help clients develop their own ability to regulate their emotions. This is especially useful when they are interacting with individuals in their lives. The first step is to recognize boundary types and to become aware of how they shift. This shifts the power dynamic in a situation, giving you back the control you need.


The scenario below could help you imagine what sessions may look like or how we work with you at The Therapy Nest.


"Whenever I talk to my mom, she likes to ask me questions about my finances. I used to get upset when she did this because I did not know what to say. Mostly, I either I said too much or I wouldn't say enough. She would accuse me of shutting down or being mean to her for not sharing information with her. This would start a fight that would result in me not talking to her for a few days or even weeks!" - Maria (fictional character).


In this scenario Maria can develop self-awareness of how her boundaries shifted. Let's have a look at how she can label what is going in instead.


"Whenever I talk to my mom, she likes to ask me questions about my finances. I used to get upset when she did this because I did not know what to say. Mostly, I either I said too much (porous boundaries) or I wouldn't say enough (rigid boundaries). She would accuse me of shutting down(trauma response-freeze) or being mean to her (trauma response- fight) for not sharing information with her. This would start a fight that would result in me not talking to her for a few days or even weeks!" - Maria (fictional character).


Maria can choose to respond in a different way to her mom. She does not have to state that she is putting up boundaries or that she is getting aggravated by the questions, she can simply notice the shift, address it in her mind, label it, and move on to another topic. This would avoid the fight but also acknowledge the situation instead of being dismissive of her own emotions.


If you would like to explore situations like these and more, send me or someone on my team an email. We also offer free 15 minute consultations if you are unsure of what you need.




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