Family is defined by you. It can be your family of origin, formal or informal adoption, a family you joined because of an intimate relationship, or a community of belonging that you create. The shapes and forms families take are limitless.
The thought of participating in family counselling can seem overwhelming, but I have found that often even individual counselling ties back to family. Relationship with family often comes up in many of the therapeutic conversations I engage in, be it as a source of support and strength, or a source of challenge. With the diversity each family has there will be relationships that will be easier, relationships that are more challenging, and relationships we avoid all together.
Perhaps we have relationships in our family, such as a spouse, that are strong and feel solid & unshakeable. Relationships don't have to be on shaky ground to access counselling, even those relationships can be deepened to another level of connection. We can grow even more solid as we learn about our partner on a deeper level. When a relationship is solid, it is a great opportunity to learn about what has helped shape who your partner is today, and what motivates and influences how they respond and react to different situations and conflict. It can be a moment to take our connection to new depths and understanding, can strengthen our compassion and empathy, and lay a solid foundation for the inevitable bumps on the road ahead.
Wouldn’t it be boring if we never changed? Part of the process of being human is to grow and change over time. This process is inevitable and can be uncomfortable or even scary for those we are in relationship with. Often, we find those around us resistant to our change and growth. The reality is often people get comfortable with those around them being a certain way, and when one of the people in a relationship changes, it can cause a level of discomfort or unfamiliarity. As we grow and change, so do the other people in our relationships.
It is not necessary to have the entire family physically involved in the counselling process in order to do family focused work. You may have (at least) one person in your family that seems to push your buttons, makes you feel like you can’t be authentic, or doesn’t appear to accept you as you are. These relationships can make us more reactive and take more of our energy to engage in, and therefore their presence in the counselling process may not be appropriate for your own therapeutic journey. Sometimes relationships can have an impact on our personal sense of safety, feelings of inadequacy, and can create a desire to cut off the relationship because it feels like it’s more work than it’s worth. It is important to remember that the only thing we can control in our relationships is how we bring ourselves into it, and how we respond to others. One can explore the various relationships in their life and approach them in a way that mitigates the impact of those that are negative.
The family we come from can influence how we find our way in the world, both positive and negative, and the family we create as we move through life evolves and expands over time. These relationships can help us grow and develop as individuals, and support us as we work toward making our more challenging relationships less impactful.