The fourth group session was taken up with a discussion between group members on issues arising for them within their families, which became apparant for them through looking at their genograms, or family 'maps'. Patterns of behaviour between generations were identified, for example one group member realised that she had never had the courage to approach her mother and talk about issues that bothered her concerning her childhood, because she had witnessed her mother's difficult relationship with her own mother. This resulted in the group member internalising a message or a 'rule' that "it's not safe to try and discuss sensitive issues with your mother". After realising this from looking at her genogram, the group member approached her mother and had a very constructive conversation with her, which helped to put a lot of things into perspective and encouraged her to feel more confident in her ability to open up to and talk with her mother.
During the fifth session, we began an exercise called "Mirror Mirror". In the fairytale Snow White, the Witch asks "mirror mirror on the wall, who is the fairest of them all?" Often when we look in the mirror, we do not see ourselves, rather we see a failure, someone who has failed to measure up to unrealistic family, social and personal expectations.
Clients often extend generosity of spirit, trust and support to others in their lives, but never give themselves these same gifts. We are overly kind and understanding of others, yet super-critical of ourselves - is this fair?
We looked at our childhoods, and asked the same question under four topic headings - Atmosphere, Mistakes, Hurt/Pain, and Expectations. I asked everyone to evaluate these areas of family life:
What was the Atmosphere like in your childhood family? Was it loving and supportive, or cold, critical or even cruel? Estimate how much of the time the atmosphere was positive and how much of the time was negative, making both numbers add up to 100%.
Family Attitude to Mistakes
Were you allowed to make mistakes in your home? If you made a mistake was it forgiven, were you given an opportunity to resolve it in a supported way, or were you criticised, told you were stupid, careless or worse? Using the 100% guide, divide up your childhood into the percentage you were allowed to make mistakes and the percentage you were punished for making mistakes.
Family Attitude to Hurt/Pain
Hurt/Pain: Were you allowed to be hurt, or be in pain, and were you comforted and taken care of at these times, or were you told to grow up, take it on the chin, laughed at or dismissed? Divide the supportive times and the unsupported times to add up to 100%.
Expectations: What expectations were placed on you as a child? Were you expected to succeed, be the best, or expected to take on an inappropriate role - the mother, the spouse, the supportive one, the 'good child', the success. Were all children in the family treated equally or were their higher expectations of one over the other? What percentage of time do you feel the expectations of you were appropriate, and how often were they inappropriate? Score out of 100%.
Take some time to reflect more on these questions and headings in the context of your childhood family life, and see what memories and recollections come to you. As always, take care of yourself and make sure you have support or a comforting strategy available to you whenever you do your reflection.
Take Care, Emma
Emma Murphy is a Counsellor and Psychotherapist working with clients struggling with food and/or body image, in Sandyford South Dublin.
All All Or Nothing Thinking Failing As A Learning Experience Family Atmosphere Family Attitudes Family Attitude To Hurt/Pain Family Attitude To Mistakes Family Expectations Family Maps/Genograms Fear Of What We Might Find Out Getting In Your Own Way Goal Setting Realistic Goals The Negative Voice We All Feel The Same Distresses