“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
Lainey EnnisFebruary 9, 2012at5:21 pm
Thank you Ingrid for your thoughtful and compassionate article. Really enjoyed it.
Dalene PeacockFebruary 10, 2012at10:50 am
I have read and re-read this blog a few times, Ingrid – all the while thinking of the divisions within my own immediate and extended family. I have pondered whether I should forward your blog to estranged family members who I’ve tried to bring together unsuccessfully in the past. I tested the water with my daughter who said the blog made her think of her dad but didn’t really shift her attitude towards him. I’m still undecided about whether to forward the article to my sister who is still solidly resistant to my mother. Seems that readiness for personal change needs to come from deep within and then the written word can provide meaningful support. Otherwise it may be perceived as preachy if sent unsolicited? Any advice or comments would be welcome!
michelFebruary 10, 2012at6:10 pm
wow ingrid..unbelievable synchronicity that you should right about this subject in your blog…this is EXACTLY what i was working with very intensely this whole week….realising that for many years i have tried so hard to change my family dynamics and their thinking etc etc and questioned why i was born into it and where on earth i fit in….and now at this time of my life have i made peace with the fact that i have made all the necessary changes within and now just ACCEPT this family i was born into and the valuable lessons of deep personal growth that i have learnt from them all and now THANK THEM from my heart for contributing to me being a better person!!!..the work has to come from within though…not always easy!!….thanks for bringing this up ….much love xx
Patricia MahonFebruary 10, 2012at11:37 pm
“Our family members mirror what we disown in ourselves.”
I have two parents, four siblings. That’s a lot of mirroring. Better get started on what I’ve disowned!
Thank you Ingrid for yet another insightful blog.
MariaFebruary 26, 2012at9:33 am
Thnk u 4 taking the time 2 bring about change,and here a person can clearly see u hve 2 start wit u 1st,take responsibility,remove those padlocks whre u keep the secrets and pain of the past hidden,tht stunt ur growth,and the cycle cn b viscious frm generation 2 generation if we dnt open ourselves up and gve the 1st in the righth direction,so u hve the power and not anyone else like we blieved 4 so many years,knowledge is power,thnk u Ingrid,lots of love and light