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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 Systems:

  • 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 abusive relationships.
  • "People can't be trusted" can yield anxiety, depression, pattern of inability to let guard down in relationships and/or emotional unavailability.
  • "I have to be perfect" can yield anxiety, stress, struggle with life balance and pattern of high expectations of others in relationships.

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 themselves.
  • 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 implementing change.

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 work:

  • 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 articles in The Toolbox at LisaKiftTherapy.com.

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