Marriage & Family I: Intro to Family Studies
Family of Origin Paper
Review Appendix in the Genograms Book (p. 293 – 299)
Gather information about your family of origin that includes vital statistics such as names, ages, birth orders, health status, marriage (couple status), circumstances of birth, causes of death, onset of illnesses (physical or psychological) of at least three generations of family members. (See number 4 below for more information).
Refer to the Genogram
Format: Symbols, Family Interaction Patterns, Medical History, Other Family Information (See also Genogram Grading Scale in syllabus).
2. Cultural Variables (Vertical Stressors and Emotional Load)
The cultural impact on family development involves vertical stressors: classism, racism, sexism, religion, education (or lack of)
How has this impacted the multigenerational context of your family?
What information is known and unknown about each generation?
What are the cultural variables in the family?
Knowing that much more is caught than taught, what was “caught” in your family about how to interact within and outside of the family?
What were the cultural norms in the family?
Are there family members who rebelled against the family norms?
Who were the rebels?
Who were the status quo people?
Discuss the cultural variables in the family system and the vertical stressors that contributed to emotional load.
3. Cultural Variables (Anxieties and Ambivalences)
What anxieties, feelings or ambivalences do you have about your social/cultural background?
What were the implicit and explicit messages communicated about your cultural heritage?
How were ethnic traits and characteristics among members of the family expressed and demonstrated?
What ethnic or cultural characteristics were validated and/ or celebrated? Which characteristics were purposefully suppressed, concealed or disapproved of?
Describe the factors/ experiences that help generate your anxiety/ ambivalence.
Looking at the multigenerational context, what would you say are some conditions that perpetuate these feelings?
Do you or any of your family members have a strong affiliation with a certain group? Would you say that group is applauded, ignored or rejected by you, your family or by society as a whole?
4. Family Life Cycle Transitions/ (Horizontal Stressors and Emotional Load)
Life events will happen ready or not! Both expected and unexpected happenings are called nodal events.
Unexpected events are untimely, tragic and/or even rewarding. Illnesses or job problems, medical or psychological problems, legal problems (arrests, jail time, release from jail, loss of license, foreclosure, litigation, losing the farm, a paralyzing or fatal accident, etc.) can all take its toll on family.
Seemingly rewarding surprises like “coming into some money,” inheriting a house, getting a “good-paying job,” and finding a spouse that loves God are also nodal events.
Times of cut-offs, divorces, abuse (physical, sexual, verbal/emotional, spiritual), serious accidents, house fires, or honorable military deaths all become part of the family’s emotional history.
After you have identified both expected and unexpected events, discuss how these events overlap between birthdays, anniversaries, graduations, deaths, moves, etc. A nodal event can be considered overlapping with another nodal events without happening on exactly the same day or month (It can be within a couple of months). If one thing happened right after the next (within same year or within a year or two), this is called a sequenced event and it is significant as well.
Discuss emotional load on the family system and the horizontal stressors that play a role.
5. Messages about Love and Sex
What were the messages about love and sex? Were there double standards? What was practiced? The hook up? Being married? Living Together? Permanent Fiancees? Were children conceived/born outside of marriage? Did either spouse have children born outside the marriage while the spouses were still together? Did either spouse have outside children conceived with someone else during the time they were still married? Did men have a place – then they didn’t? Did women have a place? Identify patterns in the multigenerational system that give evidence to the nature of relationships between men/women or even other couplings that might raise an eyebrow. Was my grandma right? Did the women folk ruin the men folk? What is the evidence in the system about whether its members are successful/ unsuccessful in love and marriage?
6. Triangles, Coalitions and the Odd-Man-Out
Playing favorites, playing one against the other and “playing crazy” happens in almost every family. Two gang up against one. This is a coalition of two with one odd-man-out. The odd-man-out is emotionally, socially and sometimes physically separated from the cozy two-some. This emotional structure is called a triangle. The two-some can be:
a) two people or
b) a person and a pet
c) a person and the bottle,
d) a person and work,
e) a person and social media,
f) a person and exercise or
g) a person and any other attachment that pulls a person close to someone/something to the exclusion of someone else.
As you consider the interactional patterns between family members in the multigenerational system, can you identify the existence of a few triangles? Discuss.
7. Differentiation of Self
Differentiation refers to a balance of both independence and interdependence – separateness and connection. Murray Bowen believed the whole family system could be treated to create opportunity for a healthier family system with less anxiety, less stress and less reactivity. With regard to differentiation in your family, do the roles, rules and patterns in the multigenerational system support it or make it difficult?
Who are the level-headed people versus the hot heads? In “powder keg families” someone will blow up sooner or later because its members are made up of fuses and dynamite. These families develop pseudo-selves who are basically pleasers and demanders.
The pleasers are the fuses and the demanders are the dynamite. The fuse thinks it can prevent the dynamite from exploding by trying to keep the peace by pretending that everything is fine. They rarely grow a back-bone and they are often the family door mats. Pleasers have lower levels of differentiation and are usually frustrated and unhappy with their connections with other people.
Higher levels of differentiation are found in emotionally healthy families where for the most part its members are level-headed and are more likely to take ownership of their own feelings. These solid selves realize that dynamite will blow regardless of what they do or don’t do, say or don’t say. Solid selves, even when they are in relationship can say, “This is who I am. This is what I will do. This is what I will not do. This is the line I will not cross for any reason.”
8. Power and Control
In order for a family to function at all, somebody has to be at the helm. Sometimes the power is within the family hierarchy (parents) and sometimes the children and the grandparents have the power leaving the parents powerless and ineffective. An aunt or uncle with a higher birth order than the parent can also have a similar impact of usurping a parent’s authority. Who rules the roost in your family? Discuss the lines of power and control. Give concrete examples and stories from your generation and the generations before (and after you)
9. Disrespected and Disempowered
Has disrespect “run-a-muck” in your family? Do parents basically say that it happens so often they just let it go? Who allows themselves to be mistreated more regularly? Is it the mother or the father? Are “the fit throwers” being conditioned to have no conscious, no self-control and no social skills. There really is no such thing as an out of control child. It’s the parents who are out of control. How is that? It means that parents have opted-out of being the people to help form a conscious in their children. A child must be helped to recognize the hurt feelings they are causing. Almost every child at some point will say, “I don’t care,” “You make me sick” or other escalations of the same sentiments. This means that the child too is hurting, BUT the child must also be taught that saying those things in that tone of voice is not any okay way to express pain. Repair attempts begin with, “I’m sorry,” but it’s more than that. It means acknowledging the pain, andworking on other ways to express disappointment and frustration without blaming, shaming, jamming or slamming.
10. Birth Order
No one has any control over when they exit their mother’s womb. Birth order, then, is not a choice – it’s a given. Investigate birth order theory starting with authors Hoops & Harper. Were first-borns treated differently than the youngest born? Was the youngest called the baby and the oldest called the big kid? Is it still that way 20, 30, 40, 50 years later? As you consider the marriages in your family, did the only children marry other only children? Did first-borns marry other first-borns? Did youngest in one family of origin marry the youngest in another family of origin? In other words, did the spouses seem to have the same or different birth orders in their respective families from generation to generation. From what you can see from the history of marriages in your family, is there a pattern showing the birth order couplings that worked and those that did not work?
11. Consider Parent-Child Patterns
What are the patterns of closeness, conflict, distance and cut-off between Mother/ son; Mother/ daughter; Father/ daughter; Father/ son, grandparents and grandchildren, etc.?
Spare the rod – spoil the child? Do parents ever agree on how to raise the kids? Which children raised in previous generations became functioning – productive adults? Which ones would not be considered functional or productive? Why? What are the family norms for healthy adulthood?
13. What happened to the money?
Making the money, handling the money and spending the money instigates at least an argument or two in any self-respecting family. What messages about money were passed down through the generations? Were there spending sprees despite budgets? Was money supposed to make everything all better? Was money no object? Was the sky the limit? Was everyone always broke? If anyone in the family ever got some real money, were they expected to fork some over to the others (so everyone would eventually be broke again)? What are your observations about the role of money in your family?
14. Legacies, Lies and Unresolved Issues
What stories were passed down from generation to generation? Who told the stories? Was it truth or fiction or a mix of a little of both? Who were the heroes and the villains? What are some of the old unresolved issues that have been alive and well in the family for generations? What concrete disagreements, strong feelings, situations and circumstances play a role in keeping these stories alive?
15. Shame, Secrets and Tight Lips
“Loose lips sink ships.” I learned that expression in seventh grade. Is there something everyone in the family pretends not to know? What is forbidden to share not only publically, but with each other as well? Speak to substance abuse, trauma, physical abuse, sexual abuse, verbal/emotional abuse, suicide, attempted suicide and other harmful patterns that show up boldly through the generations? When you were putting together the genogram, how reluctant were members to open up? What are your feelings about the tight lips? What insights do you have about protections around the family’s personal business?
16. Entries and Exits (Blended Families)
Coming into a family by birth, adoption, marriage or commitment has certain expectations placed on it by the family. Changes can be introduced in existing relationships by adopting a child, taking in a foster child or by bringing in an adult as the “new mom or dad.” Remarriage or multiple remarriage generally creates a conflict of expectations. The main conflict is that the family is expected to “love and accept” what is to them “a perfect stranger.” Exits have their own stories, too. What are the stories around death, divorce, abortion, accidents, kidnappings and other disappearances?
17. Hopes and Fears (Strengths, Resilience and Remorse)
If I just knew then, what I know now.” Many a person in the oldest generation has been known to utter those words. What strengths can you identify in your family of origin? What strengths have been passed down for the purpose of making life better for the next generation? Simply put, what hopes and fears do you have for the:
Late-middle aged generation
For example, some members of the youngest generation have an unhealthy relationship with their electronic devises. I am currently seeing a 17 year old client who says that she does not have much face time with her friend because they send about 10,000 texts per month. When I asked why she just doesn’t give her friend a call, she said, “Because that would be too much of a commitment.”
18. Being Male and Female
What does it mean to be male/female in your family? What are the gender roles? What is the division of labor? Who cleans the toilets, does the yard work, prepares the meals, bathes the kids, vacuums the floors, takes care of the bills, etc., etc., etc. Are the gender roles the same or different from generation to generation?
19. Class Issues
Has anyone ever been referred to as “getting too big for their britches?” Is there upward/ downward mobility in your family? Is there someone who “made it” and then lost everything? Is there someone in one of the generations who was the first to get a college degree or a graduate degree? Was there someone in one of the generations who was the first to have a professional job instead of an entry level position?
20. Job Issues
Did people in your family build businesses, work farms or look for work? Were they the last hired and the first fired? Did they have retirement packages, severance pay or a good swift kick in the rear? What were the messages in your family regarding working for the man? Who in your family is viewed as someone who has “made it”?
A friend “in need” is a friend, indeed. Do you have friends who are always in need? What are the messages in the family about what makes a good friend good? Who is identified as the “right crowd” versus the “wrong crowd?” What are the roles of friends in the multigenerational family system?
Have you ever heard of “blowing an opportunity?” There is good stress and there is bad stress. The good stress helps us accomplish what we need to do. The bad stress, on the other hand, is another story. Are there stories about family members who “could have, would have, should have,” but they just didn’t make the cut? Are there stories about those who made something of themselves despite the odds? Identify the patterns in your multigenerational system of those who “made it” and those who “did not make it.”
23. God Don’t Like Ugly
What were the spiritual beliefs and saying in your family? Were they used to guide, to inspire, to comfort, to scare or what? Who had/has the spiritual leadership in your family? Does the person holding the role of spiritual leader have influence on more than one generation?
24. The Family that Prays Together Stays Together
Did your family do anything inside the home that was remotely spiritual? Were there prayers before meals and prayers before bed-time? Where there family praise sessions and family rituals? Who was it that first taught you to pray? What generation in your family seems the most connected to God/ Jesus? Is there any generation of your family who thinks that the bible is ancient and useless?
25. If the Shoe Fits
Well, what if the shoe doesn’t fit? Do you mangle the foot? How often have family members been expected to squeeze into a role they can’t fulfill? Instead of a family system reconsidering their assumptions, they focus on fixing the person who is “not fitting the role” he/she is expected to fit. In other words, do you make someone feel bad enough to be good? What are the roles, rules and patterns that involve pushing, pulling, nagging and cajoling its members to rise to a “so-called higher standard”?
26. Confidence and Love
Are you loved despite your imperfections or did you grow up with the message that you must be perfect in order to be loved? Who else received these same messages? How did they handle it? How did these messages contribute to interactional patterns such as closeness, distance, conflict and cut-off?
27. Heroes and Hang-Ups
In most families, there are members who are thought well of and then- well, there are the others with their wheel-barrel full of hurts, habits and hang-ups. Are there larger than life individuals in the family and others that no one wants to claim?
You made your bed so lie in it. Doesn’t that sound like a person should be punished FOREVER? Who are the identified problem solvers in the family? Who are the people who always seem to have problems that need solving?
Do you see a pattern between what type of person seems to be larger-than-life? Can they be easily identified by sharing the same birth order, the same gender or the same in-law status? Does relationship with a person from a previous generation seem to matter? For example, if a person had a conflicted relationship with a parent, are they generally failures?
28. Showing is Better Than Telling
Rules for living are learned in every family and of course vary from family to family. As you consider the rules that were passed down from generation to generation, which ones have withstood the test of time? Which rules were helpful and which were a prescription for a dis-satisfying life. For example, “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try, again.” Really??? Isn’t that also a nice little formula for insanity? The “do and repeat” cycle rarely yields a different result.
29. When the Bell Tolls
Death is that unavoidable transition that all born people must face. How people deal with death and dying has its own set of roles, rules and patterns unique to each family. Who deals with the hospitalizations; talks to hospital personnel; expected to take care of the funeral arrangements? Who communicates with the extended family and puts the obituary in the paper? Who is there to give support even after the funeral/ burial? Who helps the survivors deal with the void left by the person who died? Who are the caregivers and who “helps”?
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