Getting Past the Past
Some of Freud’s findings, and those of others in the psychoanalytic movement he founded, are so much part of our everyday wisdom that most of us get the point that a troubled childhood significantly increases our chances of emotional distress, even mental illness, in adult life. Said differently, unsettling family experiences in childhood frequently result in personal distress during childhood and on into adulthood. Freud’s observation that we are often unconscious of the roots of our distress and difficulties is important. It reminds us that we may not be aware of the reasons for our difficulties, let alone have any understanding of them or how to deal with them.
So does that mean that a troubled childhood, condemns us to difficulties throughout our lives? Fortunately, it aint necessarily so! An increasing body of evidence demonstrates that the better a person is able to describe and understand his or her early experience, the less likely it is that his or her life will be determined by past events. In other words, “putting the past behind us” and “getting on with our lives,” as if the difficulties never happened, is not the best way to overcome them. As a wise person once said, the best way out is through; you can’t wipe the slate clean and you can’t go round the difficulties if you want to overcome them. Instead, recollecting our early history, finding out more about it through researching our family, attempting to make some connections between our past and present, and making a conscious effort to be mindful about our present behaviour in relation to our history is a begining to addressing the difficulties.
Becoming aware of these aspects of our lives, and being prepared to act on what we find, will enble us to make choices about how we live our lives in ways that we choose, rather than being trapped in routines and patterns established long ago that are not conducive to our present lifestyle and stage of development. The essay that follows, “Family of Origin Explorations”, provides some ideas on how to go about researching family. The more we learn about our family and experiences in our family, and the more we understand about the way people in our families relate to one another, the greater our chances of addressing and resolving difficulties in the present, and of living our lives unencumbered by shadows of the past.
Many enter intimate relationships, in the full flood of love, believing that, together, they have the power to make their realtionship anything they want, one that will last a lifetime. However, in making a commitment to build a relationship together, a couple enter into a complex partnership that is more than the interweaving of two individual lives. There is much more to it. Some suggest that when we enter into a marriage or an intimate relationship, both of our families climb into bed with us. Everything that we do together is coloured by the experiences that the two of us have had in our own families. The less we are aware of these experiences and the less we know about how they have affected us, the more we are condemned to live our lives under influences from the past, influences we have unconsciously acquired from our families of origin and other intimate relationships. The more we are aware of these experiences and how they have affected us, the more we are able to live our lives as we choose and the closer we can get to having the relationship we wish.