Mind Matters: Idealizing versus reality

Ah, families! If you have a belly button, you can rest assured you have had an umbilical cord that connected you to a woman and her womb. Biologically speaking, she was your mother. She may also have been your familial mother — the person who raised you along with your father. That is the stereotypical family, where biological mother and father and children live together as a unit.

There are many variations, however. Some of us are adopted; some have lost a mother as early as in childbirth. Or not have a father due to death or divorce or abandonment. There are extended families where generations live together, there are blended families, where divorced parents remarry to re-constitute a new constellation of children from previous marriages; there are same-sex marriages with children.

What we all have in common, no matter the varied circumstances is the negotiating of our own individual development—call it individuation in Carl Jung’s terms or call it differentiation in family therapy al-a Murray Bowen’s terms.

What this individuation (differentiation) means is that we need to define ourselves apart from our family of origin in order to become a mature adult.

This entails living the tension between family loyalty and individual autonomy. Every “family” provides us with a mythology to live by—and rebel against.

“Family Mythology” is the unwritten rules or lack thereof that create the worldview of the family. They encompass all facets of living: what role religion plays; whether there is a moral compass or not; what are considered threats to the family; how is safety maintained or not. What is the relationship of the family to money? Do the parents hold a deprivation or an abundance mentality? Some folks can have a lot yet feel deprived. Others may have little and yet feel they have much. What is the work ethic? Immigrants, for example, generally are considered to have a very strong work ethic.

Contrary to a strong work ethic, some families may have a sense of entitlement or privilege. And what is the mythology of education and learning? Is that considered a priority or not?

Consider the family mythology in terms of social connection and community. Is there a sense of community, social justice and care for others, or does the family feel a tribal sense of  “us against them,” fearing the stranger as “other.”

What is the family perspective on diversity, women, equality in general? We take for granted how ingrained our belief systems are until we begin to differentiate ourselves from our origins. Our beginnings form us—maybe even de-form us—to a point and then it is up to us to differentiate from our past to make the present as well as the future different.

I remember as a child asking my mother about how she was raised. She admitted that her father, whom she loved, could be harsh and punitive and how she knew what he did was wrong. She would not use the belt or hit as he had. She changed her family mythology in many ways. Yet she knew that more change would be even better. That perhaps I would carry on the change with the next generation. I didn’t get it perfectly either.

Each generation can improve upon the past generation when the individual takes responsibility to differentiate from the automatic givens of his or her mythology.

The tension of life is that we love our families all the while recognizing what of their choices in the past we cannot abide. We refine their choices—retaining some, letting go of others. This is the way we create a better future for our children.

Come to think of it, that is changing perspective too. There was a time when some families actually didn’t care about future generations. Perish the thought. Cherish the children.

* Kayta Curzie Gajdos holds a doctorate in counseling psychology and is in private practice in Belmont, Massachusetts. 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.”

** 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

 

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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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