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The Ties That Bind: Part 1

Family is an essential part of our lives. It’s where we learn and grow, feel safe and loved, and where we define our sense of identity. However, families can also be complex and sometimes challenging to navigate, especially when dealing with challenges that have been handed down through generations.

What are generational patterns?

Generational patterns are a family’s ways of behaving, generally responding [and coping] to stress. The way in which a family responds to a crisis or challenge can be positive such as using resources to overcome hardships, having strong work ethic, or a commitment to the family its self. There can also be negative patterns that develop which are typically used to cope and are helpful in the very short term, but become problematic and create dysfunction. These can be addictions, affairs, over or under parenting, or unhealthy communication patterns. You will typically notice a generational pattern in the form of “that’s the way we’ve always done it”, or “my mother and I were best friends, we told each other everything”. Often, the patterns themselves are outside of consciousness, which means to identify them you would have to take an objective step back.

Why bother?

Dysfunctional patterns passed down through generations can lead to the emergence of “symptoms” or in other words problems such as depression and anxiety amongst other mental health challenges. Healthy relationships and stress management are hard to achieve, and will continue to foster more dysfunction.

How does it change?

It hard to see the forest for the trees. Your grandma stopped talking to her sister 50 years ago when they disagreed about where to host Thanksgiving, interestingly enough your Dad stopped talking to his siblings over a dispute about money, and well, yes you have stopped to sister over similar issues. By taking a step back, you might begin to realize how your family has dealt with conflict and stress, and what has been helpful and not so helpful. Maybe you decide to consciously and intentionally adjust that pattern. Maybe you call up your sister and offer an olive branch to make emends (with boundaries). The small adjustment can lead to bigger changes, especially which your children witness you practice conflict resolution in a mature manner.

Is that it?

There’s more, families are complex and the dynamics within them can be just as problematic as the patterns inherited from past generations. When two people come together to make a new unit, they are bringing all their history with them and have to learn to navigate their responses to one another. This becomes especially tricky when you add children to the mix.

To be continued.


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