The Three R's Every Family Teaches
- Monday, September 01, 2003
It would be so convenient if the lessons our family taught were filed in an old family trunk locked away in the attic. We'd lift out a dog-eared journal containing the lesson plans and customized curricula our parents knowingly and unknowingly used. We'd peruse our personal transcripts to discover the courses we'd unconsciously taken: "Feelings We Don't Talk About in This Family," "The Way We Avoid Arguments," "How We Express and Don't Express Intimacy," "Advanced Blame Shifting," and so on.
Unfortunately, discovering just what you learned from your family isn't quite that easy. But it doesn't have to be terribly difficult either. Generally speaking, the lessons you learned from your family are the result of three R's:
1. The rules they reinforced
2. The roles they asked you to play
3. The relationships they modeled
Each family has its own unique set of rules. And while family rules may be explicit, they are more often unspoken, operating outside the conscious awareness of every family member. No one may say, for example, "Never ask anyone for help," but the rule is unconsciously articulated and formed from picking up subtle and not-so-subtle attitudes. Hearing family stories about how brave Uncle John was to go it alone or how silly someone else was to have to depend on others, for example, can be a way of saying "you should do the same."
Family rules unconsciously guide individuals by describing what family members should do and how they should behave, even if they fly in the face of a person's real desires. Take a moment to think about the unspoken rules your family lives by and how they continue to influence you.
Birth order and sibling dynamics are significant factors in shaping one's role in the family. How we act has a lot to do with our family constellation: whether we are oldest or youngest, male or female, and so on. The point is that roles played out within the family, just like unspoken rules, often develop into lifelong patterns of behavior that influence every other relationship. By identifying your role in the family, you will become more empowered to fulfill it if you choose or carve out a healthier pattern if need be.
Perhaps the most powerful method our family has of teaching relationships is by example. "Monkey see, monkey do," as the saying goes. There's really no way around it. We learn how to feel, how to think, and how to act by observing others in our home. And we learn the relationship skills that will either help or hinder the relationships we have as adults.
It is important to heighten your awareness of just how powerfully your family has shaped your relational readiness through the three R's. In fact, self-analysis in general is critical before entering any relationship. To this end, eharmony offers an excellent free tool in their personality profile test. There may be forces at work on your heart and soul that you were never aware of!
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