How to free yourself of the baggage you carry from family and discover the real purpose that your family have had in your life.
Are you dreading being with your family this Christmas? Are you already getting that sinking feeling in your stomach.
You’re going to have to be nice to people who made the most enormous mess of your life. All the confidence you’ve built, the successes in your life, seem to mean nothing when you are with your family.
You still feel like that small boy or girl that was angry and powerless
You are back there again feeling angry and powerless and very small just like you felt when you were a child. Even your voice sounds like your child’s voice.
You hate feeling like this and try as you might you can’t seem to claim that adult part of you. It’s as if you are existing in some shadowy land which feels stuck and painful – and where the light never shines.
You wish you could escape – but you’ve got days more of this. Any moment something’s going to the break – and it’s not going to be pretty.
The trouble is that you probably aren’t going to break, explode, go crazy or tell your family exactly what you think of them. As much as that voice inside you wants some form of justice for the terrible things you endured with this group of people, you know that if you do express the rage you feel it will probably rebound on you – and the consequences may lead to even deeper problems. In spite of how far they might press you, you instinctively know it is best to bite your tongue and keep quiet.
Emotional Stress at Christmas
And that also will mean that you will go away feeling terrible. All that unexpressed emotion will fester within you until you find some way of getting rid of it. Perhaps that’s why we have a knees-up at New Year – and let everything hang out – it’s to get over all the emotional stress we have endured over the Christmas period.
Christmas and Heart Attacks
When I worked as a nurse in the casualty department, on Christmas day the Emergency Room was overflowing with people with had suffered heart attacks. On Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve, it was completely empty. Not a heart attack to be seen. This I was told happened every year. There is a huge surge in deaths on Christmas and Boxing Day.Christmas is a very stressful time for numerous reasons – but emotional stress is high up on the list. It is no accident that this afflicts the heart for many people – because the heart is where we often feel the pain of the issues with our family. When you feel that something is going to break, it probably is your heart. No one can affect you quite like your family, no group of people can mess you up quite like your family and no one can hurt you quite as deeply as your family can.
They fuck you up your mum and dad
“They fuck you up, your Mum and Dad. They may not mean to, but they do.”
Philip Larkin’s famous poem strikes a chord for many people. As one appreciator of this poem said, “Out of all the poems (in four different languages!) that I’ve learned by heart at school, this is the only one that I can still recite in its entirety.” And perhaps this is the same for you.
Written in 1971, it has fans amongst those who have no idea who Philip Larkin was and have no affinity for poetry. There is something refreshing about it’s simple honesty of this poem which is even more relevant today. Here is Larkin reading his poem seemingly in a bored monotone. He was an extremely quiet and reserved man who avoided the spotlight.
There is no training course to be a parent
Larkin is right. Most parents don’t mean to make a mess of your life. There is no qualifications for being a parent and most parents either do what their parents did to them, or react to the mistakes their parents made and in so open up a whole new can of worms.
Indeed the conditions in which many people enter parenthood are far from ideal and many parents don’t really know what they’re letting themselves in for. Others are just not suited to the job.
And then there are some that make such a concerted effort to do their best, that they make all the mistakes that anyone is bound to make who is trying to do the right thing. There are parents that put so much pressure on their children to succeed, that their children can never come up to their high expectations, or they smother them with over concern that the child lives in perpetual fear, or is blocked from developing their own pathway in life.
If you are a parent yourself, you will know that it is not an easy thing being a parent. There are times when you don’t know what to do, other times that you are so overwhelmed by the challenges you are facing that you know you are probably are making the most terrible mistakes.
Given that 90% of families are dysfunctional (according to psychologist Chuck Spezzano) – so it’s no surprise that most people really struggle with their families – and particularly those who are more sensitive or do not conform to the predominant family culture.
The funny thing is that that those who come from “good families” have a whole different set or problems and don’t seem to reap the benefits of being in a “good” family!
We can spend years blaming our parents for the mistakes they made
I find James Hillman’s approach very refreshing – because all this talk of how damaging families are can get quite depressing. In The Soul’s Code Hillman says it’s only too easy to blame your parents for all the damage they did you, but this puts you in the position of victim.You can spend years berating your parents for the mistakes they made and it doesn’t necessarily get you anywhere other than keep you in justified rage. And forgiving your family, as much as you know it’s what you need to do, is not an option. They got away with murder – and on top of that they’re going to get your forgiveness. Horrible.
The other funny thing is that some of the most inspiring people come from the most destructive family backgrounds. I see this over and over again in my courses. Some of the nicest, kindest, most loving people have endured the most challenging family situations. They had a rotten start in life but it hasn’t embittered them. It has been the inspiration for creating a better life for themselves.
What if you family were meant to make a mess of it
In The Soul’s Code, Hillman examined the lives of individuals who achieved amazing feats in their lives as a way of understanding potential better. He starts with a famous bull fighter who as a child appeared to be cowardly, clinging to his mother’s skirts and afraid to venture out into the world. No doubt his father despaired that anything would become of him.
Until he was taken to a bull fight – and from then on this clingy child knew what he wanted to do with his life In fact there was no stopping him. He abandoned his mothers’ skirts and went on to become one of the most famous bull fighters in Spain. How could such a miraculous shift have occurred unless in some way this cowardly child had bull fighting written into his DNA?
Hillman then looks at two men who became extremely talented pianists. They both could be said to have fulfilled their potential in their field – and yet they had very different beginnings.
One had very supportive parents who encouraged him and dedicated themselves to his becoming a master of his craft – the other had very unsupportive parents who had no interest in their son becoming a pianist and who actively got in his way. Yet both went onto becoming extremely talented artistes.
He looks a little deeper at these two individual. Pianist 1 was more sensitive and she probably would never have become a great pianist without the support and encouragement from her parents. Whilst Pianist 2 had a more rebellious personality. If he had encouraging parents he probably would have resisted their support.
It was precisely because his parents were so unsupportive that he became a great pianist – he needed their antagonism for this potential to unfold within him.
What if this is the same for you? What if you needed your dysfunctional family to become the person you are today. Perhaps they were the perfect family for your potential to unfold. If so it may be time to start thanking them!
Your family were the perfect family for you to fulfill your potential
Hillman proposes that each one of us is born with an acorn of potential – like the bullfighter and the two pianists. Every acorn has a blue print written within it to become a “mighty oak tree”.
This is the same for you.
Every acorn has that potential and yet not every acorn does. Some acorns never take root, some take root in the shadow of other trees and so they can’t get the nutrients that they need to grow to full maturity. So they either die, are uprooted for the benefit of other trees, or struggle on for years as weak saplings until finally nature takes its course.
This is like people who have great hopes and dreams for what they could become but they are not able or willing to take the risk that is needed to find an environment, where they can see their potential flourish. Some become so embittered by their experienced that they become gnarled and old far before their time, and once strongly set on this path it is very hard to change. You probably know people like this.
It’s not easy to rise above your family mess
If you are like many people I work with, your experiences in your family may have seriously undermined your ability to move forward on what you hope to achieve in your life.
When you were very young you are like blotting paper. You soaked up the emotional environment in which you are living – you absorb the experiences of other people around you – and you are too young to see the bigger picture. Larkin puts it in these comical lines:
“They fill you with the faults they had
And add some extra, just for you.”
You can’t really blame your family because they didn’t know any better or can’t really help the fact that they are so messed up. It seems you can’t get away from the indelible impression and deep wounds that you still carry from your family. This is because you are deeply enmeshed in your family pattern and so you keep on repeating the same pattern over and over again.
A family pattern is a habitual mode of relating which is creating conflict, stress or upset. When you feel upset by your familiy’s behaviour it is because an old memory or experience has been triggered by an event which is causing you to re-experience the pain. When this is repeated over and over again it forms a deeper and deeper groove – so that you have no other choice than to behave the way you do – as do the other members of your family. This is deeply unconscious and sometimes has been passed by a process of osmosis over many generations.
Man hands on misery to man.
“Man hands on misery to man.
It deepens like a coastal shelf.”
Larkin use a geological image to represents the effects of a family pattern. It can take thousands of years for a geological feature to form – and this is the same for your family pattern that may go back many, many generations. Your parents, guardians or caretakers were caught in a vicious circle because they…
“….were fucked up in their turn
By fools in old-style hats and coats,
Who half the time were soppy-stern
And half at one another’s throats”
You Can’t Change your Family
Many people make the mistake of believing the only way out of this mess is to change their family. Have you spent year wishing you had Aladdin’s lamp and could change your family into the way you want them? You look around at other people’s families and you wish your family could be like that, you know exactly what your perfect family would be like. But no amount of attempts to change them has any effect. In fact the more you try to change them the more they will resist your influence.
It’s no surprise that you will end up feeling more and more frustrated and more and more alienated from them. The rift between you and them only get deeper.
I suggest you give up right away. You are wasting your energy and you acorn has less chance of growing into a mighty oak because you are putting too much energy in the wrong place. Instead you should be focusing on the pattern itself that produces the behaviour in members of your family.
HOW TO STOP THE PATTERN IN ITS TRACKS
It is natural for a pattern to repeat itself. It is one of the laws of the universe. It will go on ad infinitum unless it is changed or stopped.
However when a pattern is interrupted, then the pattern will change. In most cases it will go off in a new direction and create a new pattern, because the elements that created original pattern are no longer there.
But most attempts to do this in a family context do not achieve the desired result. What most people do when they’ve given up on their family is to move away from them. Away from your family you become more confident, you discover talents and abilities that being in your family gave you no room to develop, and you begin to make a new life for yourself.
Like Hillman’s story of Pianist 2, your family experience spurred you to overcome your beginnings and you are full of pride for what you have achieved in spite of your family. And so you should be.
Taking your baggage with you
It’s all fine whilst you’re not being challenged. But unless you have done an awful lot of personal work you will almost inevitably find yourself attracted to relationships – personal, romantic or business – or situations that will repeat your family pattern. Your reasons for doing this are so deeply unconscious that you are taken totally by surprise when you find yourself back in that familiar family pattern.
One participant in one of my groups expressed this very clearly – as the family baggage that she dragged around with her wherever she went.
The man playing her role in her family dragged around an extremely large suitcase to represent the baggage she was carrying, and then when she found herself drawn back in the family pattern, more and more baggage from the past attached itself to the suitcase – so that she was like a beast of burden dragging a heavier and heavier weight around with her. (The man playing her role was so physically challenged by the weight he was dragging around with him that his muscles were seriously aching as if he had just done a very strenuous workout!)
This was exactly how this young woman felt – that the more she tried to escape her family the deeper her problems became – and the more despairing she got of ever being able to move forward in her life.
The obvious solution is to put down the baggage that is keeping you enmeshed in your family mess so you can create a new pattern – but this is easier said than done. And often attempts to do this are short-lived. Like a boomerang those patterns keep on coming back.
There is a solution I promise you that will enable you to break the pattern that is effecting you and will also enable you to dissolve the ancestral pattern and break this vicious circle.
The Hollow Tree
I was walking in some woods last weekend and I came across this hollow tree that symbolises how a family pattern can be broken so a new healthier pattern can be created.As you can see the tree has become split right up the middle – right in the core of its trunk. The normal pattern of the tree has been interrupted and it has to find a new way of living. It’s pattern has to change.
The core of the tree’s trunk no longer exists – and yet the tree is still thriving – it is still growing – and the change in its core is producing certain effects.
It has taken a new form and yet it is still the same tree. But all its history has dissolved – the rings of the tree in it’s centre that represent it’s age, it’s past, are no longer needed.
Just like you, you no longer need many of your past experiences – you have learned your lesson and moved on – and yet your past experiences linger on in the patterns that you keep repeating, the emotional triggers that keep you locked in the past.
Time for Change
How can you release those emotional triggers so you could relate to your family as they are – a group of people who had an enormous influence on your life and through a mixture of positive and negative have spurred you into becoming the person you are today?
As James Hillman’s says that talking endlessly about the pain that your family puts you in victim mode, or stimulates shame, which keeps you stuck in the trauma of the experiences – and it can take a long time for you truly to dissolve those painful memories. And that can become another vicious circle.
So how can you become that mighty oak tree without you being traumatised by all the painful memories from your past?
An empowering way to release your family history
What you need is an empowering way of releasing your family history that enables you to celebrate it. If you’ve attended any of my courses you will have got a taste of how you might do that in a way that is fun, creative, expressive, and expansive with a very supportive group of people.
But you also may be aware deeper work is needed to truly shift a family pattern. It took a long time for the hollow tree to release its history – but you can achieve this much much faster – in a mere 8 months.
I have devised a way of working through Greek Theatre, drawing on am ancient form of medicine that had magical effects and enables profound transformation to take place in how you relate to your family.
To understand how it works I suggest you take a peak at the Breaking Family Patterns webpage.
The hollow tree no longer needs its internal trunk and it also gets huge benefits from the nutrition provided by the organisms that now live within it – that were previously not part of the tree.
As James Hillman says you need other sources of influence: teachers, friends, mentors, processes and experiences which will enable you to grow and develop: new beliefs, new families, new communities. These are the foundations on which the acorn can become the might oak.
For a time your Breaking Family Patterns group of people become a more positive family who will support you to the hilt and through your shared experiences together dissolve or resolve your painful childhood memories.
And you will surprised how much your family begins to change in relation to you – because you are no longer feeding the vicious circle.
You would see their dysfunctional behaviour for what it is, in the same way as you view the behaviour of anyone else. You might even be able to laugh about it and so dissolve the situation. The people with whom you previously had so much conflict may be able to laugh about it too. This kind of laughter can be refreshingly healing – it can dissolve trauma and pain in the same way as a mountain stream can bring refreshment to a valley.
You may even find yourself forgiving your family without feeling any resentment, or that you are losing face or that they are getting away with murd
You will no longer attract situations and relationships that perpetuate the old family history – and you will forge a new history. After a while you won’t even remember the things that used to cause you so much pain – its as if they’ve dissolved into ether.
And over time you will begin to see evidence of how your acorn is growing into a mighty oak….
How to Survive Christmas
If you find yourself getting triggered by your family this Christmas, can I suggest:
Breathe…. feel all the feelings that you feel and remind yourself of the person you have become or are becoming. The oak tree that is beginning to take shape through you.
Notice the behaviours that the family member is exhibiting. See if you can see them from a higher perspective – as it is – as behaviour that the person cannot help but express.
Breathe in all that is working positively in your life….
Notice all the ways that your family has spurred you to become the person you are today. Celebrate your success.
© Claire Schrader 2014
Want to free yourself of your family baggage? If this article has intrigued you, inspired you or if you have any questions, or there’s something you’d like to share please do leave a comment. Your comments may inspire others.
Or you may like to join one of my upcoming confidence courses that will help you to overcome some of the detrimental aspects of your family.
Courses that may be particularly helpful to you are Dealing with Difficult People (a relatively new course that we run from time to time) and Breakthrough Plus (for overcoming issues that are a direct result of family experiences).
Or read James Hillman’s inspiring book, a remarkable book that will change how you view your family