Genealogy In Recovery

Family History

How To Find Out What Our Childhood Was Really Like

Why It Is So Important To Know

Are we really willing to take a searching and Fearless inventory?...And If not...why not?

This information is from the book "The emotional Incest Syndrome: What To Do When A Parent's Love Rules Your Life"....Dr. Patricia Love; With Jo Robinson

Knowledge gives freedom


We all need to look at our really know what happened to us...we can't heal what we can't feel and we have to know what the real truth is about our past or we have little hope in changing the future.

Ironically, many Chosen Children discover that letting go of this misplaced sense of guilt for what went on in the family makes them feel anxious; it's a Catch-22. Once they place the responsibility where it really belongs-squarely in the lap of the parent-they may experience a surge of anxiety for having "bad thoughts" about the caretaker. Here's the internal logic: "If I was not responsible for being the Chosen Child, then my mother and father were to blame. It makes me feel anxious to see my parents in a negative light, however, because my unconscious mind assumes they are still responsible for my well-being. Even though I am 20 or 40 or even 70 years old and have outlived both my parents, I am still fearful of abandonment. It may be better to accept the guilt for what went wrong in my family than to blame my parents and stir up my anxiety."

For many people, this complicated and erroneous belief system stands in the way of recovery. Understanding the way the unconscious mind operates is a first step to letting go of the unnecessary burden. Here, once again, is the faulty train of logic:

1. When children are young, they feel responsible for the tension in the family because of the false belief that they are in control of the situation.

2. In later years, if they try to change this belief and assign full responsibility to their parents, they feel anxious.

3. The underlying cause of this anxiety is the erroneous belief that they are still dependent on their parents for survival even in their adult years.

If the thought of identifying the mistakes your parents made In raising you makes you feel guilty or anxious, you need to revise you belief system.

You were not to blame for what went on in the family, and you have nothing to fear for placing the responsibility where it really belongs.

You are now capable of taking care of yourself. And remember that you don't have to confront your parents or disassociate from them to recover from emotional incest. You just need to remove some of the mythology that keeps you from seeing and experiencing the truth.

Tapping in to a Well of Pain

People who had especially bleak childhoods may be reluctant to look at the past for yet a different reason. They don't have illusions of family perfection to overcome, and they don't feel guilty for seeing the truth they just don't want to be swamped with grief. They're afraid that once they open the floodgates, there will be no end to their tears.

I can sympathize with this point of view, because there was a time when I thought there would be no end to the reliving of my pain. I remember an occasion many years ago, shortly after my mother died, when I thought I would never stop crying. My first husband and I had just moved into a new house, and I was in the basement sorting laundry. For some reason, I started thinking about my mother and how much she would have enjoyed seeing our new house. It would have pleased her so much to see how well we were doing. Suddenly, I started to cry. The doorbell rang, and I went upstairs to answer it, confident that I could stifle my tears. I wiped my eyes and opened the door. A man from our church had come to visit, and I invited him into the kitchen for a glass of iced tea. Much to my embarrassment, I burst into tears as soon as he walked into the house. In a matter of seconds I was crying so hard that I couldn't talk. I couldn't even explain to him why I was crying. The poor man let himself out the door, no doubt thinking he had stumbled into a madhouse.

I cried all afternoon, unable to stop. I was crying not only about my mother's death but about the neglect I had experienced as a child. I was crying about having had no one to come home to after school and about waking up to an empty house. I was crying about having to lie about my mother's neglect. And I was crying about having never really gotten to know my father. I was learning that, on some level, all pain is interconnected, and when you tap in to a portion of it, the rest is right there, waiting to be released. I was afraid I'd cry for days without stopping.

By the time my husband came home that evening, however, I had finally cried myself dry. There was an end to the tears. Since then, I have visited this well of sorrow many times. By now I've gotten so acquainted with my childhood pain that I've lost my fear of it. I know where it comes from; I know what feelings I wasn't able to express as a child; and I know how this repression has interfered with my life. And each time I've visited the well, I've released more of the pain and the reservoir has gotten smaller and smaller. Now, instead of feeling as if I'm plunging into a bottomless well, I feel as if I'm stepping into a puddle on the sidewalk.

These deliberate excursions into the past have transformed my life. Instead of relying on the false sense of confidence imparted to me by my mother, I have a secure, grounded feeling of self-confidence based on reality. My natural emotions are alive and well, helping to protect me from injury and make healthier choices. People who meet me often come to the mistaken conclusion that I must have come from a loving, nurturing family. I take that as a compliment to years of hard work.

My only regret is that no one told me at the beginning of my journey what I'm telling you now: there will be an end to your pain. And once you've released all those pent-up emotions, you will experience a lightness and buoyancy you haven't felt since you were a very young child. The past will no longer feel like a lode of radioactive ore contaminating the present, and you will be able to respond appropriately to present-day events. You will feel angry when someone infringes on your territory, but you won't overreact. You will feel sad when something bad happens to you, but you won't sink into despair. You will feel joy when you have a good day, and your happiness won't be clouded with guilt. You, too, will have succeeded in making history, history. The first exercise in the recovery section of this book requires you to construct an autobiography. There are two ways to approach it:

Either write down an abbreviated version of your life story share it verbally with a friend. Whichever medium you choose, the success of the exercise will depend on your ability to amplify you feelings. Instead of pushing down any pain, sadness, or anger you may feel, you need to exaggerate it. If you feel a twinge of sadness-cry, sob! If you feel angry, clench your fist and shout, "I am angry!"

For some of you, tapping in to your emotions to this degree may be an uncomfortable experience, bringing forth feelings of embarrassment, humiliation, or guilt. This is an understandable reaction Your role in your family was to be there for others; to express you own needs was out of character. When you let down this facade and admit that you have unmet needs, you may feel very vulnerable Your feelings may seem foreign, even frightening to you. One woman expressed it this way: "I feel like a crab that has just come out of its shell. All the other crabs have a protective shell, but I don't. I feel so fragile. Even admitting this to you makes me feel scared."

Be prepared for this feeling of vulnerability and open yourself up to your flow of emotions, nonetheless. Your feelings are your friends; they are invaluable tools. They are designed to guide you to a healthy life. Each of your primary emotions has a distinct role to play in the maintenance of your well-being. Fear warns you of eminent danger; anxiety keeps you on guard; anger protects you.

I was surprised by the event that finally triggered his emotional release. His car had broken down and he had decided it would cost too much to repair. As Jacob related this seemingly insignificant news, tears came to his eyes. As we gently explored the feelings behind this incident, he told me that his father had spent countless hours working on cars with his older brother, Tom. Jacob, however, had been a Chosen Child and his mother had not allowed him to play "outside getting dirty." The incident with the car had connected him to the pain and rejection he felt at not being allowed to be close to his father.

A good way to unlock deeply buried emotions is to encourage emotions whenever and wherever they surface. You may be able to tell your whole life story without any reaction, for example, but tear up when you watch a sad movie. You may have no feelings about what happened to you as a child, but you might become irate when you read about child abuse in the newspaper. It doesn't matter what it is that gets you to respond, because in reality, all your feelings are about you. So make it a point to note any emergence of sadness or anger. When you are alone and in a safe place, see if you can amplify those feelings. You will experience some healing, whether or not you can connect the feelings to specific incidents in your life.

For most people, creating an autobiography is an excellent way uncover repressed emotions. Your first reaction to the exercise however, may be that nothing this simple will unearth your childhood wounds. Deep down you believe that it's going to be something drastic like hypnotism or two years with a therapist or month-long residency program to effect your recovery.

A graphical exercise seems too simplistic to get to the root of your issues.

It has been my experience that most effective therapy techniques are quite simple. For example, counting to ten is an excellent tool to manage your anger. Counting allows time for the surge of adrenaline to work its way out of your system and puts you in a rational frame of mind. But many people reject this tool because it's too simple; it's become a cliche. But like most cliches, it has an element of truth.

Some of you may experience a different form of resistance to the exercise: it seems like too much work. You want to read the book and be healed. Spending two or three hours writing your memories or arranging a talk session with a friend seems too arduous.

Whatever the nature of your resistance-"I don't have time," "It's too stupid," "I've done this already," "I'll do it next week"-I urge you to plunge ahead and put the exercise to the test. Do it exactly as directed and then decide whether it has merit. I have seen dramatic breakthroughs happen as a result of this exercise.


Creating Your Autobiography

Your autobiography can be as personal and unique as you are. You can "begin at the beginning" and develop your own structure, or refer to the outline provided. As you will see, the outline is quite thorough.1 You may need to consult relatives or family friends to supplement your information. Before you begin, read through it and check the items that seem most pertinent to you. Keep in mind that the purpose of the exercise is to help you recall the feelings you had as a child, so focus on issues that have the potential for evoking the greatest response.

As I mentioned earlier, there are two ways to do this exercise. One way is to write down your memories. Writing is a good method if:

(1) you like to write, and/or:
(2) you want to keep your thoughts to yourself. The second way is to share your life story with a friend. This is the preferred method if:

(1) you don't like to write, and
(2) you look forward to sharing your personal history with a friend, and/or (3) you want to encourage your flow of feelings (many people discover that openly sharing their life story with others brings up the most emotion).

If you choose the verbal method, select a friend who is comfortable with emotions. Ask your friend to be a supportive listener. Listening does not mean taking action, offering suggestions, or giving interpretations. What you want is your friend's time and attention. To structure your verbal autobiography, you can let your thoughts and memories carry you along, or you can refer to the outline on the following pages. If you like, you can listen to your friend's story at a later date, or tell your stories simultaneously.

Remember, whichever medium you choose, the goal is to get in touch with your feelings. It may help to amplify them. Cry. Yell. Shake your fist at the sky! If you experience some puzzling physical symptoms such as a headache, backache, tightness in the chest or throat, sleepiness, even dizziness as you do this exercise, note at which point in your story they begin. See if you can gather any clues.

Read through this outline and check the questions that seem most pertinent. Then write or verbalize your responses. Strive for maximum emotional expression

I. Infancy

A. What was the atmosphere of the family into which you were born?

1. Were your parents together?

2. Were they happy?

3. Were you a planned baby?

4. Were your parents happy with you?

5. Do you know if they were hoping for a boy or a girl?

6. Did you have older siblings?

7. Who was your primary caretaker?

B. What kind of a baby were you?

1. How was your health?

2. What was your personality as an infant?

3. What were your favorite pastimes, toys?

4. Where did you sleep? What were your sleep habits?

II. Early childhood (ages 1 to 5)

A. What do early pictures say about you?

B. What are your earliest memories?

C. List the most prominent feelings you had as a child (e.g., sadness, happiness, anger, disappointment, hurt, shame, guilt, love, etc.).

D. What were your favorite pastimes?

E. If you had siblings, describe your relationships with them.

1. Which one(s) were you closest to?

2. Which one(s) did you have problems with?

F. Did one of your siblings have a special relationship with a parent?

1. Describe that relationship.

2. How did you feel about it?

G. What did you like the most and the least about your early childhood?

III. Later childhood (ages 5 to 11)

A. What was your school experience like?

B. What kind of student were you?

C. How did your caretakers respond to your school performance?

D. Did you have friends?

1. Who were your friends?

2. Describe your relationships with them.

3. How did you spend your time?

E. What was your home like?

1. How did it look?

2. How did you feel about where you lived?

F. Did your caretakers respect your feelings?

G. Did they demonstrate a healthy way of dealing with their own feelings?

H. Did you (or could you) express feelings of anger, fear, sadness, guilt, love, affection?

I. Did you feel safe as a child?

1. With whom did you feel safest?

2. Did you feel unsafe with anyone?

J. Were you touched and held by your caretakers?

1. If yes, by whom?

2. If not, why not?

3. How did it feel to be touched, or not to be touched?

K. How were you disciplined?

1. By whom?

2. Was it fair and humane?

3. What were you disciplined for?

L. Were you "spoiled" by anyone?

1. How, in what way?

2. How did others respond to your being spoiled?

M. Were you anyone's favorite in your immediate or extended family?

1. How was this favoritism shown?

2. How did others respond to this favoritism?

N. Were you physically abused by anyone?

(This includes hitting, shaking, slapping, head banging, hair pulling, malicious tickling, etc.)

1. If so, by whom?

2. Describe the abuse.

3. How did you feel about it?

4. Did anybody try to protect you?

5. Was there anyone you could tell about the abuse?

0. Were you sexually abused by anyone?

1. Was there overt abuse? (This includes intercourse, fondling, rape, sexual kissing, sexual touching, pornography, voyeurism, and exhibitionism.)

2. Was there any covert sexual abuse. (This includes lack of privacy in the bathroom or bedroom, sexual teasing, sexual jokes or innuendoes, being treated as a date by a parent or relative, sexual glances, and being used as source of sexual stimulation.)

3. Did anyone try to protect you from the abuse?

4. Did you seek help? If not, why not?

P. Was your family flexible?

Q. Were the adults clearly in charge?

R. Did the adults have a clear, healthy support system friends, family, neighbors?

S. Did your family relate to the broader community in healthy manner?

1. School

2. Church

3. Neighbors

4. Friends

5. Work

T. In a word or phrase, how would you describe your life from ages 5 to 11?

1. What were the high spots?

2. What were the low spots?

3. What would you change if you could?

IV. Adolescence (ages 12 to 20)

A. What type of young teenager were you?

B. What were your major feelings as a teenager?

C. Describe your relationship to your caretakers during this time.

D. How did you relate to friends, classmates?

E. How did you feel about your appearance?

F. To whom were you closest?

G. Describe your sexual development.

1. Did you have any anxieties about it?

2. How did your caretakers respond to your sexual maturity?

3. Were you given adequate information?

H. Describe your relationship with friends of the opposite sex.

1. Did you date?

2. How did your caretakers respond to your interest in the opposite sex?

3. Did you experiment with sex?

I. Did you have personal privacy at home?

J. Were your caretakers happy with their lives?

K. In later years, were you given support to leave home and become more independent?

1. Were you given help and information about career options?

2. Did you feel any pressure to stay home or to stay close to home?

3. Did you feel guilt or anxiety about leaving home?

4. Were you eager to leave home?

L. What were the hardest times of your adolescence?

M. What were the highlights?

N. If you could now change your adolescence, how would you change it?

V. Young adulthood (ages 21 to 30)

A. List and summarize each of your significant love relationships.

B. What was your job history?

C. Describe any additional schooling and how you felt about it.

D. Describe your physical health.

E. If you got married during this period, discuss your marriage(s).

F. If you had children, discuss your relationship with your children.

G. If you had it to do over, what would you change about young adulthood?

VI. How has your life been since young adulthood?

A. High points

B. Low points

C. Job or career history

D. Health

E. Friends

F. Love relationships

VII. Present day

A. What feelings do you experience on a regular basis? (E.g., tiredness, anger, sadness, depression, joy, elation, aimlessness, confidence, a feeling of purpose, etc.)

B. What recurring thoughts and fantasies do you have?

C. To whom are you closest?

EXERCISE 2: Family Interviews

Once you've completed your autobiography, gain additional insight into your childhood by interviewing family and friends. You will not only clarify your own memories, you will open up new chapters of family history. Learning more about your parents' lives can be especially useful. When you discover how they were treated by their parents, you may have a better sense of why they treated you as they did.

If your parents are living, they may be able to provide much of this information. Since you will be asking them questions about their early history-not about their relationship with you-you may be surprised at how much they are willing to tell you.

You can either make a special date for the interview or weave your questions into an already scheduled visit. You be the judge. Do what feels right to you.

If your parents volunteer few insights, they may be unusually defensive or even denying what happened to them as children. Supplement what you are able to glean from them by talking with other relatives. It could be that others are more forthcoming. Following is a list of possible questions to ask your parents. Look through them for ones that seem most thought-provoking. Write down other questions that come to mind. Ask yourself: What do I really want to know about my parents?

Questions to Ask Parents:

1. What was it like growing up in your family?

2. Tell me about the house(s) (or apartment) in which you grew up.

3. Did you like where you lived?

4. What kind of child were you? (E.g., happy, outgoing, shy, curious, etc.)

5. What were the spoken and unspoken rules in your family?

6. Did you feel closest to your mother or your father?

7. What were your parents like?

8. Do you think your parents were happy?

9. What did your parents do for fun?

10. Do you think your parents enjoyed being parents?

11. What was the best part of your childhood?

12. What was the toughest part of your childhood?

13. What was the family atmosphere like?

14. Was one of your brothers or sisters especially close to one of your parents? How did that make you feel?

15. Was there any obvious favoritism in your family?

16. Was there one child who always seemed to be left out?

17. Was there one child that a parent was especially hard on?

18. Was there one child who was "spoiled" by a parent?

19. Was there one child who "could do no wrong"?

20. What were you like as a teenager?

21. Did your parents openly reveal their emotions?

22. What did you want to be when you grew up?

23. What attracted you to Mom? (Dad?)

24. What was it like the first years you were married?

25. What were the most difficult years of your marriage?

26. Did you have any traumas as a child?

27. Did you want your first child to be a boy or a girl?

28. How did your parents react to your marriage?

29. How did your parents react to your dating?

30. Do you think a parent relied on you for emotional support?

31. Were either of your parents violent or abusive?

32. How did they discipline you?

33. What was it like living through the Depression? (or World War I or II?)

34. Was money a problem when you were growing up?

For added insight, you might ask your aunts and uncles similar.
Questions about your parents: "What was my mother/father like as a young child?"

"What do you remember most about my mother/father?"

"How did my mother/father get along with your parents?"

"Were you jealous of my parent or was my parent jealous of you?"

These discussions can be very revealing.

Childhood friends, cousins, and neighbors can also be good informants. You alone can determine which questions to ask and how to phrase them. You might feel comfortable asking Aunt Frances searching, personal questions, for example, but you'd instinctively steer clear of those areas with Aunt Ruth.

Questions to Ask Friends, Aunts and Uncles, Cousins, and Neighbors:

1. How did you feel when you visited my house?

2. What were some of the major differences between your parents and mine?

3. Did you think either of my parents played favorites?

4. What do you remember about me as a child?

5. Was there anything that seemed odd or strange about my family?

6. What did you like about visiting my house?

7. What didn't you like about visiting my house?

8. How did my parents treat you?

9. How did my parents treat each other?

10. What do you remember about each of my brothers and sisters?

Siblings can be a storehouse of information about your family of origin. They went through many of the same experiences as you did, but with a different point of view. If you get along well with them, you've undoubtedly had many helpful conversations already. But if a difference in age, physical distance, or simple reticence has kept your interaction superficial, take this opportunity to ask more probing questions. (If you have a conflicted relationship with a brother or sister, skip this exercise. Questions to Ask Siblings:

1. What do you remember most about the house(s) (or apartments) in which we grew up?

2. Do you have recurring dreams about the family? If so, what are they?

3. Did you feel closer to Mom or to Dad?

4. Did you think either Mom or Dad played favorites? (This could be a sensitive area.)

5. What were the saddest times for you growing up in the family?

6. What were the happiest times for you?

7. What did you want from Mom and/or Dad that you never got?

8. What did you appreciate most about Mom and/or Dad?

9. If you could change something about our family, what would it be?

10. What do you think were the unspoken rules in our family?

11. Did Mom or Dad (or Step-dad or Step-mom, etc.) influence you the most?

12. Did you pattern yourself after either Mom or Dad?

13. Did you deliberately distance yourself from Mom or Dad?

14. Do you feel that you have traits like Mom or Dad? How do you feel about this?

15. Which of our brothers and/or sisters did you feel closest to?

16. Do you think our caretakers treated us fairly?

17. Do you remember ever being very angry at Mom or Dad?

18. Which event hurt you the most?

19. Which event made you the happiest?

Other areas to explore: relationships with other relatives, specific events such as family moves, or traumatic events such as fires, accidents, divorces, or deaths.

"PATRICIA LOVE, Ed. D., is a marriage and family therapist in practice in Austin, Texas. A former clinical director in marriage and family therapy, Dr. Love is a licensed professional counselor, a clinical member and approved supervisor in the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy, and president of the International Association for Marriage and Family Counselors, as well as an active member of the American Association for Counseling and Development."

JO ROBINSON, is a writer from Portland Oregon, whose work appeared in magazines such as Redbook, Readers Digest, and McCalls. She is the coauthor of "getting The Love You Want: A guide for Couples and Unplug the Christmas Machine."

And Always Keep In Mind The Most Important Factor

  "What we live with we learn,
and what we learn
we practice, and what we
practice, we become...
and what we become
has consequences"...
AND almost always, I have
found, who we become
has little to do with who
we were meant to be.

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(Est. 4.15.96)

DISCLAMER: Before you start to look at the material that I have assembled for you I want to make clear that I claim very little original authorship here. Even where I don't give credit I probably should because there are very few original words of wisdom left in recovery. I want to especially thank Terry Kellogg, whom I do believe has a lot of original stuff, John Bradshaw whom I believe has the ability to synthesize others material better that anyone I know, and I guess if we wanted to be completely accurate we should not quote the serenity prayer out of content nor without giving credit to the author. I also want to give permission to anyone to use anything on this site for the benefit of recovery as long as they do not make any more money off of it. This offer only extends to what I have the right to give.

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