Your family of origin—the people you grew up with—has a lot to do with issues you may be experiencing in your current relationships. Your self-esteem and core beliefs are determined by the dynamics of your family of origin and how you internalized those dynamics as a child.
For example, you may have grown up with an overly criticizing parent who never praised you during childhood. As a child, you developed a habit of trying to be perfect to please that parent and “earn” their love and attention. It is likely that in your adult relationship, you maintain the same sense of wanting to “earn” your partner’s love by trying to be perfect all the time. This can mean having poor boundaries, consistently putting your partner’s needs above your own, or putting up a front and hiding your true self in an attempt to appear like the person you think your partner wants you to be.
As a second example, you may have been neglected by caregivers in your childhood. This neglect created an early sense of mistrust that likely became your core belief in life. If you couldn’t trust your parents to be there for you consistently, why would you trust your partner to stick around and meet your needs? It’s ingrained in you that your reality is a life of being ignored and neglected. Even if you have a present partner willing to meet your needs, your deeply ingrained mistrust can skew your perception of reality and hurt the relationship.
The problem with these core beliefs is that they have become so hardwired within your thinking patterns that they may seem normal to you. Or like there’s not actually a problem. But trying to keep up an appearance of perfection and not trusting your partner are significant issues in marriage and relationships that can have devastating effects.
The good news is that it’s possible to uncover your damaging core beliefs by examining your own family of origin. In my experience as a marriage and family therapist, I find that the best way to do this is through answering a series of interview-style questions. The questions are designed to uncover how your family relates to each other and the outside world. And how this has affected your self-esteem and core beliefs today.
Family of Origin Questions:
- What was your parents’ marriage/relationship like?
- How would your parents resolve conflicts or differences when you were growing up?
- How did they fight?
- How did they make-up?
- How did they communicate feelings to each other and to the kids?
- How did they discipline the kids?
- What was the one thing you wish you had gotten from your parents growing up that you did not?
- Is there any history of mental or emotional illness in your family while growing up (this includes addiction)?
- Was there any physical or sexual abuse in your family? If so, how was that handled?
- How did your family handle trauma?
- How would you describe the “emotional tone” of your family? (Happy/unhappy, close/distant, warm/cold, honest/hypocritical)
- How materialistic was your family?
- What were the principal values taught in your family?
- What was it like for you and your parents when you left home (moved out independently)?
- What did you like best about your family?
- What did you dislike most about your family?
- How much is your partner like your father/mother? In what ways?
- Do you see any similarities in how you relate to your partner and the way you related to your parents?
Write down your responses to the questions above and take some time to reflect on your answers. Try to make connections between your answers and any recurring issues you are experiencing in your relationship (i.e., trust issues, detachment, jealousy, the need to appear perfect, nagging/controlling). Then consider how your family of origin may have contributed to a core belief that may be the cause of these recurring issues in your relationship.
Simply recognizing that you have dysfunctional core beliefs affecting your everyday life can be a great start to healing yourself and your relationships. Continue to be aware of the “why” behind your thoughts and reactions to things in your life. You’ll start to gain more clarity on yourself and your past, which is the best way to implement positive changes in the present.
I hope these tools have been helpful to you and your significant other in helping you uncover any underlying reasons for the issues in your relationship or marriage. I’ll be launching more resources soon with practical ways to improve your relationships… so be sure to stay tuned!
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