Mind Matters: Family myths, past to present

Who knows when I first heard the story of my father’s newspaper business burning to the ground in a small town in New Jersey in 1943? I wasn’t born until 1945. Yet, I do know that as a very young child, before I was able to read, I became fascinated by a book of pictures of antique fire trucks and imagined myself putting out any fire that might threaten my family.

The Phoenix of financial wherewithal did not arise from the ashes to re-create another newspaper: my father became a proofreader for the Philadelphia Inquirer by night and an advertising and layout editor by day for another, local, paper. Nevertheless, the legend of his publishing venture remained a constant undercurrent in our lives: a wistful “what could have been and was no longer.”

What is the psychological point here? That what has occurred in a family’s past remains part of its present, sometimes explicitly, most times implicitly.

My family’s mythology, a la the fire, was and is that one can attain a dream, lose it, but still live. My magical thinking response as a child, however, was that I would have ridden in on a shiny firetruck and saved the day.

Ignorance of the many ways family mythology gets played out is not bliss. If we do not become conscious and aware of our family history, we can never really mature and move beyond a smaller definition of ourselves. What we may consider our “comfort” zone is really our “constricted” zone.

You might ask yourself how your family mythology defines you. What were the rules from your family of origin, that, although never printed out and stuck by a magnet to the refrigerator, are imprinted in your brain?

What about feelings, for example? Did your family explode with anger or do the opposite — prohibit any display of anger such that you were told never to feel such emotion?

What message did your family maintain about space? Were there boundaries such that each person’s privacy was respected or were your parents intrusive and overbearing? Was there too much isolation, or too much smothering?

What were the family rules about respect? Was there respect of personal boundaries within the family as well as outside the home? Was your body respected both in word and action? Or were you teased, made fun of, or touched inappropriately?

What were the family rules about work and play? Was there a work and study ethic balanced with play and fun activities?

What were the family rules about money? Time? Sexuality? Religion? Secrets? Neighbors? Trust? Food? Death? Life?

How a family of origin approaches these and other themes has a profound effect on the developing child’s view of the world. Maturity occurs when we can recognize what we learned from our past may need to change in the present in order to have a larger future. So, consider—is your comfort zone your constricted zone?

*The opinions expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the ownership or management of Chadds Ford Live. We welcome opposing viewpoints. Readers may comment in the comments section or they may submit a Letter to the Editor to: editor@chaddsfordlive.com

**Kayta Curzie Gajdos holds a doctorate in counseling psychology and is in private practice in Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania. She welcomes comments at MindMatters@DrGajdos.com or 610-388-2888. Past columns are posted to www.drgajdos.com. See book.quietwisdom-loudtimes.com for information about her book, "Quiet Wisdom in Loud Times: The Rise of the Wounded Feminine."

 

 

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About Kayta Gajdos

Dr. Kathleen Curzie Gajdos ("Kayta") is a licensed psychologist (Pennsylvania and Delaware) who has worked with individuals, couples, and families with a spectrum of problems. She has experience and training in the fields of alcohol and drug addictions, hypnosis, family therapy, Jungian theory, Gestalt therapy, EMDR, and bereavement. Dr. Gajdos developed a private practice in the Pittsburgh area, and was affiliated with the Family Therapy Institute of Western Psychiatric Institute and Clinic, having written numerous articles for the Family Therapy Newsletter there. She has published in the American Psychological Association Bulletin, the Family Psychologist, and in the Swedenborgian publications, Chrysalis and The Messenger. Dr. Gajdos has taught at the college level, most recently for West Chester University and Wilmington College, and has served as field faculty for Vermont College of Norwich University the Union Institute's Center for Distance Learning, Cincinnati, Ohio. She has also served as consulting psychologist to the Irene Stacy Community MH/MR Center in Western Pennsylvania where she supervised psychologists in training. Currently active in disaster relief, Dr. Gajdos serves with the American Red Cross and participated in Hurricane Katrina relief efforts as a member of teams from the Department of Health and Human Services' Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.Now living in Chadds Ford, in the Brandywine Valley of eastern Pennsylvania, Dr. Gajdos combines her private practice working with individuals, couples and families, with leading workshops on such topics as grief and healing, the impact of multigenerational grief and trauma shame, the shadow and self, Women Who Run with the Wolves, motherless daughters, and mediation and relaxation. Each year at Temenos Retreat Center in West Chester, PA she leads a griefs of birthing ritual for those who have suffered losses of procreation (abortions, miscarriages, infertility, etc.); she also holds yearly A Day of Re-Collection at Temenos.Dr. Gajdos holds Master's degrees in both philosophy and clinical psychology and received her Ph.D. in counseling at the University of Pittsburgh. Among her professional affiliations, she includes having been a founding member and board member of the C.G. Jung Educational Center of Pittsburgh, as well as being listed in Who's Who of American Women. Currently, she is a member of the American Psychological Association, The Pennsylvania Psychological Association, the Delaware Psychological Association, the American Family Therapy Academy, The Association for Death Education and Counseling, and the Delaware County Mental Health and Mental Retardation Board. Woven into her professional career are Dr. Gajdos' pursuits of dancing, singing, and writing poetry.

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