Every family has strengths and weaknesses. It’s dangerous to be either oblivious to how family affects you or hyper focused and resentful about one part of what happened. Both will erase the opportunity to be different from increased self-awareness.
Families offer legacies to their children. One family with an enormous amount of abuse including physical, emotional and verbal, may leave a heritage of mistrust. As adults the children become hermits to avoid the possibility of ever being hurt again. These same children are remarkable in their caretaking of each other and their parents. They each grew up saying “I’m never going to do that to anyone” and the result is their profound expertise in caretaking. Heritage and legacy are complicated. They will also end up lonely like their mom, only having each other. So both the good and the bad exist, even in an extreme situation.
Therapy isn’t really about catharsis. Catharsis doesn’t achieve much. Catharsis only has value when, there is a hoarded secret of a terrible mistake that requires a witness to lighten the load.
Exploring and sharing growing up experiences and assumptions leads to greater self-awareness.
Many people shut down their feelings about growing up. Someone deeply feels that “my mother was extremely selfish, bitter and erased who I was.” Their anger at the situation can tie them up in knots of mistrust and distance that lead them to follow a similar path of bitterness. The irony of ending up like their mother, which is the last thing they ever wanted, is due to not recognizing this. Instead they play it out unconsciously in their own life.
Life is a tricky business and there is a lot to learn about who we are. Another example is growing up in a family of stinginess. You are angry about the harshness of that and are determined to be different. So you buy gifts and throw money at relationships, but there is a hollowness to this generosity because the gifts don’t really “fit” who they’re given to and people want to be listened to more than receive money. Generosity needs careful attention to who the other person is and what their unique wants are. So you’re “different” and yet still the same – not really different enough.
Self-awareness and fearless honesty with yourself is the only path to true change that runs deep enough. Real change is hard work because there are lots of layers to who you are, as you are. You will repeat your parents’ mistakes without self-awareness.
Therapy isn’t about bashing families, it’s about the rugged honesty of what worked for you and what didn’t. Exploring it in-depth so that if your mom or dad was an active alcoholic you don’t end up in a relationship with a husband or wife, where you repeat the same pattern of coming up empty.
Or if you do spend a couple of decades with an active alcoholic in marriage then you decide to find the courage to leave and change because the last third of your life can still be different and that matters.