Family Ties – Part 5

» Posted in Family Life, Marriage and Relationships, Parenting, Personal Growth | 0 comments

 Break Free from Family Ties

I sat chatting with my friend the other day, marvelling at the incredible mother she was.  Looking at her respond to her son as he interrupted us with a question, I just had to sit back and admire her.  Not only was she a wonderful mom, but she was also a beautiful friend and a loving wife.  Hard to believe, if you knew where she came from.

For Sharon was a product of a broken family, with a distant, emotionally cold father and a controlling, emotionally manipulative mother.  Lucky Sharon, she got it from both ends – whether she was with her dad, with his disengaged family style, or her mom, with her rigid family style (see Part 4 of this series for more on these types of families).  To this day, her family of origin still tries to pull her into the same old dance.  Her siblings are all apples that didn’t fall far from the tree, playing out the same dysfunction with their own spouses and kids.

So what was different about Sharon?  How did she get so “lucky”?

Three things:  self-awareness, a teachable heart and a determination to change.  Sharon knew early on that she didn’t want to raise her family as she had been raised, but she also knew that if she didn’t deal with her family of origin issues, she would likely repeat the old patterns.  Not on purpose, but still, without the conscious intention to change, she knew that she’d follow the same path her siblings had taken.

If you’ve been following this series on Family Ties and you’re beginning to realize that you have some family of origin challenges, then take heart from Sharon’s story.  You can change your dance and choose a healthy path.  But you must be intentional. Healthy choices don’t just happen by accident.  And sorry, we aren’t born with the genes to have a healthy family just because.  Your friend who has that great family?  She has been intentional, not lucky.  Your co-worker with the wonderful marriage?  He has been purposeful, not accidental.  You remember Sharon?  She tells me her philosophy is “what are you becoming”.  Can you hear her teachable heart?

So… are you ready to break free?

Step 1:  Face the problem.  Be honest with yourself and do a thorough self-assessment.  What’s not working in your life?  Rather than blaming others or your circumstances, take responsibility for your part of the pain you’re experiencing in your relationships, your career, your faith, etc.  What needs changing in your life?  If you don’t know, consider the tough step of asking trusted friends.  If you do this, you have to have a thick skin and be willing to hear what they have to say about any dysfunctional patterns they notice in your life.  Is it your out of control temper?  Is it the way you constantly sabotage your career?  Are you now on your third or fourth marriage or serious relationship?

Step 2:  Understand your Family of Origin.  Consider where you came from and where you are today.  If things aren’t working out today for you especially in your relationships or your sense of worth, consider your family of origin or early childhood experiences.  What was your mom like as a mother?  What was your dad like as a father?  Go back and read the earlier parts of this series (1, 2, 3 and 4) and see if anything resonates with you.  Or if you want an even more in-depth look at your family of origin issues, consider seeing a professional therapist.  Remember, the intent is never to blame your parents; often they did the best they could with the tools they had.  Instead, this is about understanding some of the experiences that shaped you growing up.  Your family was your biggest influence – either in causing you to follow the same path or in your decision to deviate.

Step 3:  Recount your Experiences.  Review the experiences you had growing up and consider how they may have shaped you.  What conclusions did you draw about yourself?  About others?  About God?  To help you with this exercise, think through the different stages of your life, from birth to toddler years to elementary school years to adolescence to young adulthood.  Journal your various experiences without worrying about editing.  This isn’t an essay that will be reviewed, but is simply a chance for you to self-reflect.  Take as long as you need to do this step.

Step 4:  Experience the Feelings.  As you consider your family of origin experiences and your relationships with your mother and father, allow yourself to remember how you felt.  This is a time to grieve and acknowledge the pain you may have experienced, and to validate your emotions.  How do you feel today as your remember?  Angry?  Abandoned?  Sad?  Numb?  If you’re feeling intense and overwhelming emotions, please stop this exercise now and get professional help.  Please don’t do this alone!  If you can recount traumatic experiences without any emotions, you have likely shut down your heart to cope.  This, too, can be a problem, as being so shut off from your own emotions can lead to a myriad of relational and health problems.  So that too can be a warning sign there is work to be done, perhaps under the care of someone who knows what to do to unlock your heart.

Step 5:  Forgive and let go.  I don’t suggest this step lightly, especially if you come from a family that has abused you or caused you grievous harm.  And I don’t say to forgive your family just because you “should” or else you’re being a “bad Christian”.  Forgiveness is for you.  It’s about letting go of your need for justice, not because you shouldn’t get justice, but because this is the only way you can be free from the bondage of bitterness and unresolved hurt and the dysfunctional chains that tie you to your family.  Trust me, this is the only way to true freedom.  If you’re finding this step difficult to do, please get help.  Being in the presence of a caring, grace-filled and non-judgemental therapist can go a long way to helping you break free.  And do it for real, not as a going-through-the-motion-exercise.

Step 6:  Trace patterns of behaviour.  Now that you’ve taken the time to think about your family of origin relationships and patterns, consider how they are currently showing up in your life.  It can be subtle in having a different face – for example, you may not be an alcoholic like your father, but are you a workaholic?  Maybe your mother always exploded when she got angry but your patterns of bottling your anger and then punishing others in passive-aggressive ways may be rooted in how anger was handled in an unhealthy way in your home.  Again, your spouse and close friends can be a mirror to help you look at your patterns honestly.

Step 7:  Set healthy boundaries.  I won’t belabour the point in this blog as I have written much more extensively about boundaries in previous posts (see my four part series on boundaries), but it will be important that you set healthy boundaries with your family of origin, especially if they try to pull you into their dysfunctional dance.  For many of us, we are still in relationship with our parents and siblings, and so it’s important that we don’t lose the great progress we’ve made every single tine we come into contact with them.  Learn how to be respectful of them, but also of yourself and your boundaries.

Step 8: Commit to the change process.  Make personal growth a priority in your life and take active steps to change.  This includes educating yourself through reading books related to your areas of concern, taking workshops, asking others to hold you accountable, seeking mentoring relationships with people who do well what you want to learn to do, or pursuing counselling.  And make personal growth your lifelong goal.  Invite God into this journey of growth as it is absolutely his will.  He will complete the good work he has begun in you.  He loves a teachable heart and he will give you great capacity to change.  Give permission to your trusted family and friends to confront you when they see you exhibit old patterns – yes, even your kids.  It takes great humility but it’s so worth it!

Please know that the journey I just outlined is hard work, and I don’t want to do a disservice to it by implying that it’s a simple 8-step process.  However, if you let this roadmap guide you and you choose to be intentional, have a teachable heart and you are determined to change, I promise you, great results await you.  You can break free from your family ties that bind!  If you are looking for professional help and you live in the Greater Toronto Area, check out  If you’re from outside this catchment area, please see your pastor or doctor for a referral to a reputable therapist.


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