What Is Your Role in the Family?

We are coming up on a long holiday of being with family and friends.  As a therapist, it is a time to consider what being at home with the family will be like for each of my clients.  For some, it is a great joy they look forward to for weeks, for others, it is a stressful experience of regression and repression, and for others, it is neither good nor bad...it just is.  This is the perfect time to talk a little about your role in your family in therapy, and to consider your role in the family on your own.

A highly respected, yet "outside the box" thinker of family therapy is a man named Carl Whitaker.  He said, "There is no such thing as an individual, only a fragment of a family."  I truly believe this.  Never are we able to walk this earth without having an interaction with another human being that influences us in some way - this is the most obvious with our own nuclear families.  Our interactions with them either bring hurt, joy, renewed strength, adjusted boundaries, reflection, consideration, peacefulness, or any of the other many emotions and thoughts that come during our human experience.  The important question is, what happens with you when you go home? I believe this to be important because if you can reflect a little before, and prepare for the visit, you are much more likely to have a satisfying experience while you are with all your loved ones.

Some theories and therapists talk of birth order when considering roles in the family.  Are you the eldest?  Responsible, level headed, accomplishing all your supposed to?  Or perhaps a middle child - taking care of others and ensuring peace and harmony over the holidays...while also sinking into the background a little?  Or maybe your birth order has landed you as the youngest - "the baby", never able to truly be an adult when you are at home?  More than likely, some of these characteristics fit for you, but there are many other ways you play a role in the family that may have nothing to do with strict birth order.  Perhaps  you belong to a step family, with layers of competitive feelings and complicated negotiations for belonging.  Perhaps a family member passed away earlier than expected, and a family dance ensued, everyone attempting to sort out where they fit in now.

The message I am trying to convey - is that everyone plays a role in the family (whether they are aware of it or not), but it rarely fits completely into a predetermined category.  If you're on a path toward a healthy, enjoyable relationship with your family, it is important to take a step back and examine what role you play when you are all together.  And then ask yourself, is this what I want?  How else could I be when we are all together?

Familial relationships are always complex, with layers built upon layers as time goes by.  Time for reflection (and a good therapist) can help you discover the patterns in your family, the roles everyone plays....and with that awareness, you give yourself a choice.  Is this how I want it to be?  Or do I need something different?

Happy Holidays to everyone, I hope you take the time to step away from the "shoulds", take time to reflect, take time to recharge - so that your new year can begin with love and purpose.

Take care!