The Origins of You: How Breaking Family Patterns Can Liberate the Way We Live and Love304
The Origins of You: How Breaking Family Patterns Can Liberate the Way We Live and Love304
From licensed therapist and popular Instagram relationship expert Vienna Pharaon (@mindfulmft, +683K followers) comes a profound guide to understanding and overcoming wounds from your Family of Origin—the foundation of how we relate to others, ourselves, and the world around us.
None of us had a perfect childhood; we are all carrying around behaviors that don’t serve us—and may in fact be hurting us. But it doesn’t have to be that way, says licensed marriage and family therapist Vienna Pharaon. Our past might create our patterns, but we can change those patterns for the better...with the right tools.
In The Origins of You, Pharaon has unlocked a healing process to help us understand our Family of Origin—the family and framework we grew up within—and examine what worked (and didn’t) in that system. Unhealed pain (or “wounds”) in that Family of Origin will manifest in our adult behaviors in surprising ways, from work challenges to interpersonal struggles. But the good news: armed with the knowledge about our past, we can actually rewire our programming to meaningfully improve our relationships and our lives, right now and in the future.
It doesn’t matter whether you’ve been in therapy for decades, or whether therapy isn’t for you. It doesn’t matter if you have loads of memories from childhood, or struggle to remember anything at all. What matters is your willingness to look inside yourself, and your determination to find a new way forward. Complete with guided introspection, personal experiences, client stories, frameworks for having difficult conversations, and worksheets to complement each chapter, The Origins of You will teach you how to break family patterns and help you liberate the way you live and love.
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|Publisher:||Penguin Publishing Group|
|Product dimensions:||5.60(w) x 9.10(h) x 1.30(d)|
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
I was just five years old when a rupture in my family left me with a wound which would dictate the course of my relationships for years to come.
For a long time I refused to acknowledge the effect my past had on, well, everything else in my life. In fact, I might never have fully understood the importance of these early events without an education in psychology, a working knowledge of the lingering effects of trauma, and a deep curiosity around relationships. It has taken years of hard work to see the impact of what happened long ago and to actively take control of who I want to be in relationships, valuable lessons I’ve learned that I will share with you in this book. But I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s start at the beginning.
Let’s start with my origins.
It was a beautiful, sunny day in the summer of 1991. I was trying to make a flimsy gold bangle into a trendy hoop earring—five going on fifteen, as they say—when I heard my father’s raised voice from behind the closed bedroom door. My father’s anger was always scary to me. He was the kind of man who liked to dominate every situation he was in, and the power and control he exuded felt threatening and manipulative. My joy in my cool jewelry project immediately vanished.
“If you leave, don’t come back,” he shouted at my mother.
As a five-year-old, the words pierced me. I’d never heard such rage targeted at someone I loved, at someone he was supposed to love: If you leave, don’t come back.
Within minutes my mom was barreling upstairs, urging me to pack a bag. There wasn’t much time for my system to process what was happening. All I knew was that we were leaving.
We picked up my maternal grandmother and went to the Jersey shore, where I am sure I played in the waves, built castles in the sand, and probably convinced my mom to stop for ice cream on the way home. It hadn’t yet struck me that “home” this time might mean somewhere else. Dropping off my grandmother wouldn’t be just another stop. It was the destination.
When we got to my grandma’s house, we settled in, unwinding after a day in the sun. It wasn’t long before the phone started to ring. Although there was no caller ID at the time, it was obvious who was on the other line. My father immediately demanded to speak to my mom, but my grandma knew better than to pass the phone. Within minutes, we were all running over to the neighbor’s house. No time to process. Just time to run.
About ten minutes later my father and his brother, my uncle, pulled into my grandma’s driveway. We watched from afar as they banged on the front door, circled the house, and tried to catch a glimpse of any movement inside. My mom’s parked car was a clear giveaway that we couldn’t be far. I remember ever-so-carefully peeking my head above the window sill to see what was going on just a house away. My dad and uncle were just small figurines in the distance, but I could still see their rage.
I wanted to call out to my dad, but I was also frightened. I was hiding with my mom, feeling terrified and unsafe, while simultaneously thinking to myself, I’m right here, Dad.
Minutes later, the police pulled into my grandmother's driveway. I could hear the fear in my mom’s voice as she demanded I hide in the closet with her. This is really happening. I was instructed to not make a peep. Then came the knock, which pierced in a familiar way. The neighbor opened the door to two angry men and a couple of police officers. The questions came from the officers while accusations came from my father and uncle. They knew we were inside, but there was no invitation to enter.
I could hear the rage escalating. There must be something I can do to fix this, I prayed. How do I make this stop? I just want them both to be okay.
Yet there was no way to make both of my parents happy. There was no way to choose them both. There was no way to honor one without hurting or disappointing the other, or so I believed. There was no way to stop the fight.
Throughout the incident, we remained, my mom and me, stock still, hand in hand, in the closet.
And though I didn’t then have the language to describe it, it was then – at that moment – my own safety wound was born. I had no idea, at the time, just how long I would be trapped in that moment.
* * *
Even though my parents tried their best, they couldn’t protect me or shield me from their rage. My physical safety was never threatened, but the system I called my family was crashing and burning. The chaos became the status quo. I saw two adults come face to face with threats, manipulation, paranoia, emotional flooding, abuse, control, and fear. As much as they tried to hide it from me, I saw it, I felt it, and I experienced it alongside them. My world had suddenly, dramatically, become unsafe. The two people who I’d trusted to be my protectors were so busy fighting each other they, for a time, lost sight of me.
I realized I had to create my own safety.
I took on the role of peacekeeper in an attempt to put out the fire and to keep the family functioning. It was quite the role for a five-year-old. Unaware that it wasn’t my responsibility, I gave it everything I had. I became a phenomenal actress. I had determined that my not being OK at all times was too much for my parents to face, so I’d say, “I’m fine,” with the sole intention of not adding to their burden. And, in an effort to always please them and tell them what I believed they needed to hear, I never shared my preferences, only validated theirs. I became a child with no needs of her own, exceptional at anything I put my mind to, always helping to lessen the burden or distract them from what was happening.
My safety wound – more about this in the pages that follow remained unaddressed and, repeatedly reinjured, continued to unconsciously direct my life. I was always on the alert, always ready to put out the next potential fire, whether the kindling and match came from my parents, my friends, or eventually my own partners. But the long-term effects of taking on this inappropriate peacekeeper role and of mistakenly putting all my efforts into making everything okay would take years to unpack. I learned to shapeshift, shrink, minimize, maximize, and distort myself and my experiences all in the name of pleasing—a habit I would later need to work tirelessly at overthrowing if I wanted to have authentic relationships.
And I became so skilled at making sure that what happened to my parents didn’t happen to me that I wound up recreating everything I was fearful of. My fear of being controlled, as my father had controlled my mother, made me controlling myself. My people-pleasing and need to be worthy made me invulnerable and inauthentic, blocking genuine connections. And my cool-girl, on-top-of-everything persona made it impossible to reveal how I really felt or ask for any needs to be met. I was stuck in my personal and professional relationships, recreating the very patterns I’d sworn to never repeat.
When I first started therapy, I didn’t see any of this. I was convinced that the issue I needed to work on (my “presenting problem”) was “improving communication and conflict in my relationships.” I found myself inexplicably at odds with people in all aspects of my life – friendships, colleagues, and especially people I datedbut somehow, I never traced these different frustrations and struggles back to this inciting incident in my childhood. I’d survived that, I told myself. I’d kept the peace.
But deep down I knew better. The underlying problem (what all that conflict was really about) went back to that terror-filled day. It went back to my family of origin and my resulting safety wound. And it was only then when I began to explore myself through the lens of my family of origin that I finally began to become unstuck.
Suddenly, when viewed through this new perspective, my way of being and existing started to make sense. I saw how a finite experience that happened decades ago had an enduring effect on me. I had attempted to ignore that original wound that shattered my sense of safety and sidestep the resulting pain – becoming the one who tried to fly under the radar in an effort to avoiding adding any additional stress to my family, and in every subsequent relationship.
Spoiler alert: trying not to add stress to others only created stress and more pain for myself. White-knuckling my way through conflict without properly acknowledging the origin of it didn’t work in my own relationships as an adult. Neither did my other defense mechanism – the cool-girl, above-it-all persona. My attempts to avoid pain and keep myself “safe” were having the exact opposite effect. By hiding how I really felt, by failing to embrace my needs or express myself, I was tamping down conflict only for it to reemerge in other places. And by hiding from my pain and wound – from even seeing that there was something that needed my attention I denied my own healing.
The good news – one I learned from hard work, both on myself and with my hundreds of clients over fifteen years as a marriage and family therapist – is that it doesn’t have to be this way. Just because we have wounds from our childhoods doesn’t mean we are doomed to repeat those patterns. If we pause to understand where these wounds come from (our origin stories), and take the time to make different choices, we can access powerful healing. In fact, our origin stories can be the roadmap to our healing, once we are willing to really look.
I’ve worked with clients on more than 20,000 hours of therapy over my career. I also run an Instagram community of over 600,000 individuals with whom I’m in conversation daily. In this book I share my own stories, and the stories of many others I’ve worked with. Their names are changed and many details altered to protect their identity, but their stories are offered with the aim of reflecting something back to you, with the aim of helping you truly see yourself and others. I want to help you explore your own origin stories, to name your wounds, to make the connection between those wounds and your unhealthy behaviors, and ultimately to learn how to create and maintain healthy relationships in your life right now.
This book will teach you how to look beyond what we in the therapy world call the “presenting problem,” the problem that you come to therapy to resolve. It will ask you to explore and connect with the origins of your beliefs, behaviors, and patterns, and the way your family of origin contributed to them. Most of the damaging and frustrating patterns we find ourselves in originate with wounds we sustained in childhood. Understanding your origin wound and the long-standing, destructive patterns it leads to, will go a long way to addressing conflicts and behaviors that trouble you today.
The work begins with our family of origin (or FOO as we’ll sometimes refer to it in these pages). This is where the foundation of how we relate to others, ourselves, and the world around us begins to take shape. Your early relationships—the presence of them, the absence, the negligence, the hypervigilance—all have an impact on how you view just about everything in your life today. Your family of origin may have been consistently functional, sometimes functional, or rarely functional. Whatever the degree, it wasn’t perfect. You craved things from them that they couldn’t or didn’t give to you, you needed protection from things they didn’t (or did) see, and you wanted permission to feel and experience things they withheld as threatening to their way of feeling and experiencing.
The majority of the relationship difficulties that individuals or couples come to me with are due to lingering and unresolved pain and trauma from past relationships, especially within their family of origin. It’s why I call what I do with my clients origin healing work.
Origin healing work is an integration of family systems work and psychodynamic theory. It’s based off of Integrative Systemic Therapy[i], which was the approach I learned when I trained to be a marriage and family therapist at Northwestern University. We look for how our present-day behavior connects to the family systems in which we grew up, and to see the issues a person is struggling with within the context of a much larger system around them.
Without doing this work, as we’ll learn in Part I, your pain and trauma tend to go unresolved no matter how far away from them you try to run. It doesn’t matter how much you try to avoid that painful past: how far away you physically move (“the geographical cure,” as psychologist, Dr. Froma Walsh calls it[ii]), or whether you fully cut off from a harmful family member. There is an internal resolution that must happen if you’re going to heal, and that internal resolution requires an understanding and awareness of the origin wounds that have a tight grip on you.
I have yet to meet a person who doesn’t have some kind of origin wound. In this book, we’ll explore five that are common. In fact, you might recognize more than one in yourself. Maybe you struggled to feel worthy of love growing up. Maybe you always felt like you didn’t belong. Maybe you questioned whether you were important enough to be a priority. Maybe you struggled to trust those closest to you, or maybe you didn’t feel physically or emotionally safe.
Naming your origin wounds is the first step towards your healing. In each of the chapters in Part II, we will explore a specific wound’s origins, the destructive ways you learned to cope with it, and then read some healing stories. I will then lead you through your own Origin Healing Practice where you’ll work through for yourself a four-step process that includes the naming of the wound, its witnessing, grieving alongside of it (yup, we’re going to do some feeling in these pages), and then pivoting, making the long lasting changes so that you don’t keep repeating the patterns you’ve been trying to break in your adult relationships. If you’re ready to stop replaying your destructive dynamics with important people in your life, you’re going to want to pay attention to this healing work. And no, you can’t skip over your pain. No matter how much you bargain with it, you can’t avoid your origin wound and forge a new way forward. As the saying goes, “the only way out is through.” I’m here to walk alongside of you on your path through.
Once you have a more thorough understanding of your origin wound, you’ll be ready to see how those wounds and the patterns you learned in your family system more generally influence your relationship behaviors today. In Part III, we’ll look specifically at how you learned to communicate, to navigate conflict, and what you learned (or didn’t learn) about boundaries. As we learn more about your past patterns, I’ll help you shift the way you communicate, fight, and set or lift boundaries to healthier ways of engagement and a more authentic way of being.
When you notice yourself becoming reactive or in a destructive pattern, you’re going to get into the habit of asking yourself certain questions so you can process what’s happening differently than you normally do. It’s not good enough to just know why you choose the same types of partners over and over again, and it’s not good enough to know why you react the way you do. Origin healing work is also about finding a path forward where you can live out what it is you know and reclaim what has been taken with compassion, understanding, and empathy for yourself, and often for others. We’re going to focus on healing the past, but we’re also going to take steps that disrupt and change the programming and conditioning that has kept you stuck in the present.
Throughout, there will be plenty of prompts, exercises and guided meditations so that you can do the work as we go. You will start the process of freeing yourself from unwanted patterns and behaviors that sabotage your relationships and your life. You will take specific steps to get on the road to healing and self-discovery.
[i] of Integrative Systemic Therapy: Douglas C. Breunlin, William M. Pinsof, and William P. Russell, Integrative Systemic Therapy: Metaframeworks for Problem Solving with Individuals, Couples, and Families (American Psychological Association, 2018).
Table of Contents
Author's Note ix
Introduction: My Family of Origin and Yours 1
Part I Our Roots
1 Your Past Is Your Present 17
2 Naming Your Wound 31
Part II Our Wounds and their Origins
3 I Want to Feel Worthy 57
4 I Want to Belong 85
5 I Want to Prioritized 109
6 I Want to Trust 135
7 I Want to Feel Safe 157
Part III Changing Your Relationship Behaviors
8 Conflict 185
9 Communication 210
10 Boundaries 236
Part IV Your Reclamation
11 Making It Stick 255
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