Rejuvenation is defined as “to make young again.” You can rejuvenate yourself and your current relationships including the relationship you have with food when you strive to live more consciously with a balanced awareness of the legacy of your past generations. The tool to use is the genogram for understanding and dispelling the family shadows. It’s another perfect tool for eating disorder awareness.
Depending on personal family history, the cycles and dynamics within families bear fruit every fourth through sixth generation. When a family unit is tight, strong, and loving, the members of that family enjoy the strength of cohesiveness and support from familial love, which helps them ride through the hard times of the currents of life better.
However when a family unit is not close (antagonistic), or displays emotional fusion (lack of boundaries, poorly differentiated relationships), or is dysfunctional, then the family dynamic becomes more of a liability than an asset to its members. The more closed the family system is, the more rigid and automatic the family responses and patterns become. Family members who identify strongly with or idolize other members may be prone to continue destructive behavior patterns throughout generations.
How does this happen? Family behavior patterns can be passed along in stories, as well as through attitudes, liaisons and affinities between family members for generations. The intensity of these patterns often unconsciously pulls at our attention and influences our lives on a subconscious level. Sometimes they interfere with the ability to make wise, conscious, decisions and undermine the ability to live fully and function truthfully in the present modern world. One way to discern and understand your family dynamic is through a charting method known as the genogram.
A genogram is similar to a family tree in that it describes family relationships between its members. Primarily used by mental health experts, physicians, and clergy, a genogram maps biological processes (such as birth order, marriages, pregnancies, deaths, households, and other historical and medical events).
A genogram can also map the emotional dynamics in relationships between family members, such as whose relationship was conflict-ridden, which relationships were close, the incidence of physical abuse or incest, as well as other patterns of dysfunction within the family history for generations. When used effectively, this tool gives a “snapshot” of the historical and dynamic influences at work in a family. You can benefit from this information. Simply draw your own family genogram and use it to become more conscious of the hidden influences within your family.
The Genogram Survey
Draw up a history of your family in your journal, using circles to signify females and squares to delineate males. Record at least four generations of your family, beginning with your grandparents. Add each generation (your parents, their brothers and sisters, you and your brothers and sisters, your children and their cousins) and their spouses or significant others. Do your best to fill in the relationship dynamic by answering the following questions in the genogram survey.
(1) Label addictions such as alcoholism or drug abuse recreational or over-the-counter or food addiction.
(2) Note any medical information you can. Look for chronic illness, eating disorders, depression, or other mental health problems. Some health concerns you might be aware.
(3) Label any emotions that might define certain members or that they might be stuck in. For instance did you parents argue? Did you mother remain bitter? Did either of your parents experience loss and grief? If so, how did they teach you to handle it by their example? Did either parent have difficulty overcoming fears?
(4) Using straight lines, connect the relationships in your family which were loving and close. Which relatives do you identify with or idolize?
(5) Connect all the conflict-ridden relationships with jagged or wavy lines. How much of what you do today is directly or indirectly influenced by unresolved issues in these relationships?
(6) If possible, ask the family for more history. What were their lives like? How did their lives turn out? Successful or tragic? In what ways? As sensitively as possible, ask for specific details. What “family secrets” do members choose not to talk about? Fill out your chart accordingly.
In addition, answer the following questions to determine the past messages your family sent you. Understanding these things consciously takes them from being stumbling blocks and turns them into personal stepping stones out of unconscious behaviors.
(1) Ask yourself, what message or belief did my mother pass on to me?
(2) Ask yourself, what message or belief did my father pass on to me?
(3) Ask this same question for each grandparent, both maternal and paternal.
The emotional beliefs (a prime factor in eating disorders) passed on to you by previous generations are powerful coercive forces that affect you and your choices in life. Knowing your family background can help you understand where some of your feelings and actions originate and allow you to make more conscious, satisfying, rewarding choices in the way you react or behave, tremendously effecting the course of the rest of your life.
Example of ‘Genogram’ is on page 117 in Not Your Mother’s Diet. Take a look.
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