“My sister’s not talking to me again,” lamented Maggie, who comes from a family that handles “hot potato” issues by abrupt withdrawal, rigidly polarized role-playing, vast, frozen lakes of silence. Behind closed doors, shuttered windows, or on the altar of talk shows we enact archetypal patterns. For most of us, though, family bonds flourish in adversity, survive ruptures, reincarnate in the comfort of shared history and the cohesion of blood ties. For others, feuds fester for generations; anger poisons the food at the dinner table.
As we grow into adulthood, it is within our family relationships that we are challenged to set the bar high for our personal growth. Our interactions with our parents and siblings ask that we draw from our creative Higher Self to break the cycle of habitual role playing, to short circuit destructive behaviour. We may need to be counterintuitive to breach the walls of a heavily guarded family secret. To ask questions that inspire thought and heart connection, rather than ignite reactivity. To validate and empathise rather than judge or blame. To choose not to react to behaviour that baffles or appears insensitive or cruel, in the knowledge that it rises from an ancient riverbed of pain. Sometimes it is the news of an accident, an affair, a splintering divorce or lingering illness that opens padlocked hearts, draws us together to deal with a family crisis bonded by our blood. Often it means dismounting from our high horse, bowing our heads to our hearts. Asking ourselves, “do you prefer that you be right, or happy?” (A Course in Miracles)
Like a flock of starlings, families have a murmuration, a rhythmic dance of energy that is passed on from generation to generation. Family therapists see “the identified patient”, the disturbed child or adolescent, who comes bearing the symptoms of the psychic life of the family.
Astrology describes a different approach to the standard psychological view. Our birth charts depict our perceptions of our parents, the unconscious conflicts they bring into the family home, family fate… present in the symbolism of our life journey. There is an old adage “You can choose your friends but you can’t choose your family.” Our horoscopes suggest we certainly do choose our family. Our father’s drinking, his covert affairs, the inconsistent or unavailable mother, our sister’s anger, our brother’s depression, is already innate, depicted in the birth chart. We are predisposed, or “fated” to experience our actual parents and the archetypal parents through inner images, our own filters. We may perceive our father as being rejecting, distant. Frequently our actual father will behave towards us in a way that will be rejecting and distant, despite himself. Our own behaviour and conscious or unconscious feelings will elicit a cold and distant response from this father figure who may have other attributes that are perceived very differently by our siblings. Though the protagonists in the family drama are easy to identify, family complexes are enduring. Salvador Minuchin speaks of a family “system” to which the individual must adapt. Our challenge, our growth comes from knowing that our family members mirror what we disown in ourselves. Only we can choose to break free of the tyranny of repetitive knee-jerk response to stressors, the old agreements, toxic dynamics and outworn resentments, to try on new behaviour.
Freedom from our suffering comes from taking back our projections, one by one. As Bryon Katie says succinctly, “Placing the blame or judgment on someone else leaves you powerless to change your experience; taking responsibility for your beliefs and judgments gives you the power to change them”.
Families are temples for spiritual growth. We elect the curriculum, and set our own pace to do the work. When things get painful we can choose to cut ties with those who trigger our tantrum-throwing inner two year old. To diminish and dilute painful contact to an occasional well-mannered Hallmark greeting card or a one-line text message. To allow the misunderstandings, miscommunications, to stretch and strain into years of silence. Or we can value ourselves and our family of origin enough to stand in our own solid, flexible sense of Self. To take responsibility for our own lives, pull back our judgements, and open our hearts to incredible Love. That is Power.
The uniquely magnificent Adele, sings out her soul-sound: Hometown Glory