Family of Origin Influences


Relatively few people are aware of how they continue to be influenced and controlled in their present behaviors by aspects of experiences in their family of origins. Family of origin therapists are interested in helping individuals make clear distinctions between themselves and their parents; that is, people working out distorted childhood relationships with their parents in the context of their existing adult associations.

Various techniques can be used to make individuals consciously aware of important aspects in their families of origin. Although a family of origin therapist can be helpful, you can begin work on breaking free of family of origin influences on your own.

Family photographs.

The technique of family photographs can help recapture the family of origin experience. You should pick three or four photographs and consider such questions as who stands where, who is not in the picture, what expressions are on people's faces, etc. An exercise with photographs can stimulate you to work through forgotten events and establish a new perspective leading to a process of change.


Family sculpting.

In family sculpting family members translate their feelings and thoughts

into action and space by, for example, asking family members (or individuals representing their family members) to move physically in a room to clarify the emotional distances between members.


Rules and rituals.

Look at rules and rituals--also roles--that existed in your family of origin and that continue to persist in your current nuclear family. This is a valuable technique to help you decide to maintain or alter the status quo. This idea can be further developed by writing a family of origin paper covering your beliefs and feelings in regard to topics such as sexuality, friendships, parenting style, traumas, etc.

The genogram.

A format for drawing a family tree that records information about family members and their relationships over at least three generations is the genogram. By using symbols the genogram maps out the structure of the family first, then gathers information about family members, and finally examines the interpersonal relationships in the family. Emily Martin has written an excellent book



Genograms: Tire New Tool for Exploring the Personality Career. and Love Patterns You Inherit for the lay beginner.


Assessment scales.

Various instruments have been developed to help you become more aware of the impact your family of origin has had on you. They are usually simple to administer and score. Two examples are the Family-of-Origin Scale and the Personal Authority in the Family System Questionnaire.



You can read books to free your adult life from distortions of the past. Two excellent books on the subject are Making Peace with Your Parents by H.H. Bloomfield and Toxic Parents by S. Forward.

In summary, family of origin therapy is concerned about the "baggage" that individuals carry around from their families of origin into their present relationships. This "baggage" is seen as a potential obstacle to the establishment of solid nuclear family relationships. Family of origin work uses an exploration of the past in order to readjust present relationships. The responsibility for change is on you to behave in ways that are more clearly your own or, in other words, to become your own parent.



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Contact Dr. Zimmerman at or 715.386.9011