Study Your System
For the last few days, we’ve been noting the importance of knowing and understanding the relationship patterns of the family system you grew up in. If you can place yourself in the context of that system, you can change the patterns that you identify as unhealthy, relationally crippling, or developmentally delaying.
I wish I had had access to this information when I was just emerging from my family of origin. What a difference it would have made in my dating choices. Instead, when I was 18 and went to another state for college, I was unaware that I was operating on auto-pilot in survival mode. I had very little information that was useful in real life and relationships.
A Personal Example
Consequently, I made some of the most costly choices of my life. For example….
Having grown up in a family system where emotional, verbal, physical, sexual and spiritual abuse were the daily cocktail, I learned from a very young age that the adults in charge didn’t have what it took to teach me how to do life, and that if I wanted to get that information, I’d have to find it for myself. I decided that education would be the best way to do that, so I pursued my studies with vigor. It was something I could control in a predictably unpredictable environment.
Powerlessness and Control
In my unconscious attempts not to be in a powerless position ever gain, maintaining control became part of my personality structure. Then I met a nice, good looking young man at a church house party in college, and lucky for me, I didn’t know how to get back to my dorm from the party. He offered to lead me to the highway, since he was going that way, anyway. Demurely, I accepted the offer.
Lest he think I was helpless, however, and lest he see me as powerless and vulnerable, I passed him as quickly as possible, waving “thanks” to him as I went by demonstrating my independence. I could only bear being the damsel in distress for a short time before I had to make my personal power known. Keep in mind that none of this was conscious at the time. Totally automatic.
Dating, Powerlessness and Control
When this young man and I began dating, I was sure to remain in control and independent, although I was also careful to be demure. The fundamentalist religious system of which I was a part made it clear how women were to act with men, and I (mostly) conformed.
Conflict arose between us after I shared with my now-boyfriend that I had been sexually involved with several of my big brother’s friends when I was a child. Ignorant as we both were, neither of us named what had happened as rape, molestation or sexual abuse. In fact, Scott blamed me for that involvement, and I was crushed. Scott felt that I had violated him by defiling what was eventually supposed to be his, and he was crushed, too.
This was the bizarre foundation of our dating life and of our marriage. That initial conflict, driven completely by automatic reactions and unconscious emotional processes, was just the beginning of the next couple decades of contention and disconnect.
Making Sense of it All
It took years and dogged commitment to unravel the story and understand the forces that had been operating against us for our entire relationship. With much counseling, journaling and voracious reading about relationships, I was eventually able to see that the patterns learned from our lives predating our relationship came with us into our life together, forming an unconscious foundation of dysfunction, stress and anxiety.
That anxiety turned into conflict, conflict turned into distance, distance turned into emotional, physical and social dysfunction, and had we had the children that we were unable to conceive, we would simply have passed our dysfunction onto them.
Fortunately, there is useful information to help make sense of the most complicated dynamics, and as diligent as I was to find it, I was bound to. It took many years, but this is the information I pass along to you now.
What Difference Does it Make?
If you’ve been following this blog, you know the difference it made in how I conducted myself in the dating world the second time around. From my point of view, the hard work of studying yourself and the relationship system in which you grew up is worth the effort…especially when you consider the potential joy that can result from making conscious, wise choices.