By: Lisa Kift, MA
My psychotherapy practice has always
revolved around family of origin work in some way - and I'm
very passionate about the work itself. Watching people make deep,
fundamental shifts in how they view themselves and the world is
powerful to observe - and potentially life changing for them.
So what is family of origin work?
I define "family of origin work" as
the exploration of a person's experiences with parents and/or
primary caregivers to uncover unhelpful belief systems (core
beliefs) negatively impacting their adult functioning.
Examples of Unhelpful Belief
- I'm unlovable.
- People can't be trusted.
- I have to be perfect.
Problematic belief systems can be
like a dark veil that obscures people's vision of life and their
place in it. They can be at the root at a number of different
scenarios that brings people to seek therapy.
Examples of problematic core
beliefs and the ways they might manifest themselves:
- "I'm unlovable" can yield depression, anxiety and/or a pattern of
- "People can't be trusted" can yield anxiety, depression, pattern
of inability to let guard down in relationships and/or emotional
- "I have to be perfect" can yield anxiety, stress, struggle with
life balance and pattern of high expectations of others in
The good news is that core beliefs
can be "unlearned" and conditioning doesn't have to be permanent.
People can change their perceptions and put on a new shade of
sunglasses in which to view themselves, others and the world.
So how does one work through
hurtful family of origin experiences?
Therapists have different ways of
helping people move through old wounds. The following is how I help
my clients process their stories and change any negative impact they
have on them now:
- Talk about the experience.
- Be realistic about how the
experience might have impacted them. This might mean carefully
dropping defense mechanisms.
- Get back in touch with the
feelings they had - and might have dismissed - at that time.
- Learn to provide empathy for
- Identify problematic core
beliefs and their triggers.
- Challenge those beliefs when
they come up in the everyday automatic thinking process.
- Be patient and consistent with
The process of this type of therapy
is just that - a process. It's akin to layers of an onion being
carefully removed to reveal the heart. The "layers" are the defense
mechanisms (erected very wisely for self protection) that have
shielded the inner core from pain.
Benefits of doing family of origin
- Process emotional impact of old
wounds - and move past them
- Shift perception around
experiences to more realistic ones
- Challenge and reshape
problematic core belief systems
- Refocus lens on self, others and
the world to a more hopeful, positive view
If you believe you might benefit from
family of origin work, find a therapist in your area who does family
of origin style therapy or counseling.
Lisa Brookes Kift is a
Marriage and Family Therapist in Marin
County, California. Find more of her mental health and relationship
The Toolbox at LisaKiftTherapy.com.