How to break dysfunctional family patterns and heal generational trauma
In this podcast (episode #459) and blog, I talk to mindful licensed marriage and family therapist Vienna Pharaon about trauma and family relationships, facing our origin wounds, how to unshackle ourselves from the past to find peace in the present, and so much more!
In Vienna’s incredible new book, The Origins of You: How Breaking Family Patterns Can Liberate The Way We Live And Love, she talks about how, “armed with the knowledge about our past, we can actually rewire our programming to meaningfully improve our relationships and our lives, right now and in the future”. As Vienna points out, “it doesn’t matter whether you’ve been in therapy for decades, or whether therapy isn’t for you. It doesn’t matter if you have loads of memories from childhood, or struggle to remember anything at all. What matters is your willingness to look inside yourself, and your determination to find a new way forward”.
Vienna is passionate about helping people understand the families they grew up in and around, and how these family systems shape them. These systems are what could be called our first education: they are where we start learning how to communicate, how to start setting up boundaries, how to navigate conflict, how we feel and think about ourselves and others, how to love and be loved, and so on.
Understanding these origin stories, the “firsts” in our lives, helps us better understand where we are in the present. It teaches us how to navigate and heal unwanted patterns in our own lives by looking at the origin wounds that are running the show.
This is not about blaming our parents or the adults in our lives for everything that has happened to us. This is about understanding our origin stories to help heal patterns in the present and create hope for the future. It is about acknowledging what has happened to us with grace and compassion—seeing our parents outside of just mom and dad, as sons and daughters themselves. This helps us shift our perspective, reminding us that every person in our lives has a rich and complex history and story and wounds of their own. This tenderness is not an excuse. It does not cover over our own wounds. Rather, it helps us balance ownership, accountability and responsibility with grace and compassion. It means saying “yes, this happened, and now I am the person responsible for my own healing”.
In The Origins of You, Vienna talks about 5 main origin wounds:
- The worthiness wound. This wound has a lot to do with conditions, or the need to meet certain standards to feel loved, validated or connected with your family. People with a worthiness wound are taught from young that they should show up in a certain way in order to get what they need, which can affect them later on in life, making them think that they need to do or say certain things to get the validation and acceptance they desire.
- The belonging wound. A lot of families have a narrative that says that “this is what it means to be part of this family.” This is what we believe, this is what we do, this is how we love. This can be a good thing, but it can also have negative effects if someone doesn’t adapt to the family narrative, making them feel like an outsider in their own home. When this attachment is threatened, they tend to lose their authenticity to feel like they belong: they shape shift into who they think their family wants them to be, which can affect how they relate to other people in their life as adults, instead of reaching inside of themselves to discover their true place of belonging.
- The prioritization wound. This happens when a person didn’t feel important enough growing up, whether due to parent conflict, separation, or other factors. It is important to understand that an origin wound doesn’t always come from a place of abuse, negligence or bad intent. Sometimes parents are doing their absolute best, and wounds still occur.
- The trust wound. This happens when a child experiences a breach of trust or betrayal within the family system, or when a child witnesses someone they love experience a breach of trust. This can affect them into adulthood, impacting their ability to trust others and maintain relationships.
- The safety wound. This often involves abuse or negligence, where a child has experienced emotional, physical, psychological, sexual or other types of trauma. When a person’s wellbeing is not respected, protected or cared for from younth , then they will find it hard to feel safe or protected as they grow older, and often build up high walls to protect themselves from other people.
The first step to healing is naming, identifying and acknowledging the wound. Then, you need to spend time witnessing it: don’t just try to move away from the pain. We have to be able to grieve what is there before we begin the process of pivoting to new decisions and behaviors.
This process won’t be easy, and there will be times when you feel like you are falling back instead of going forward, but when you make the shift, things will start moving in a different direction. Remember, true healing is painful at times, and does take time. But it is so worth it! Growth is not all about choosing a new pattern right away. Sometimes it is about noticing something a little sooner—we need to be able to see growth through many different lenses.
For more on identifying and healing your origin stories, listen to my podcast with Vienna (episode #459), and check out her amazing work and new book. If you enjoy listening to my podcast, please consider leaving a 5-star review and subscribing. And keep sharing episodes with friends and family and on social media. (Don’t forget to tag me so I can see your posts!).
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Podcast 458: How to make stress good for you
Podcast 457: This podcast will put you to sleep
Podcast 456: How to Navigate Colliding Boundaries in Relationships: Part 2
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3:25 Vienna’s amazing new book
5:00 What our family teaches us
7:30 The myth of the quick fix
9:35 Why we can’t just blame our parents
11:20 The danger of outsourcing our own healing
21:00, 31:36, 39:00 The five main origin wounds
30:00 Seeing growth & healing through different lenses
41:00 Not all wounds come from a place of abuse or bad intent
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