Mind Matters: Families of origin

Have you ever considered your family of origin? I mean, really considered your family of origin—not just your mother and father, but way back to ancestors?

I have always longed to be one of those people who could trace their history beyond the Mayflower. I have met folks who can, as well as those who settled here with William Penn. Perhaps part of the yearning is associated with the fact that these people were — and maybe still are — the in-crowd. Their long history seems to give them an anchor in life. The rest of us whites were immigrant interlopers from countries like Poland or Italy—not necessarily even considered white in the 1800s and early 1900s. Of course, prior to the first colonists were the Native Americans, many of whom were snuffed out by those early whites who became the squatters on stolen land. Also, African Americans who were captured into slavery had no choice in their despicable, forced migration where millions died in one or another part of the journey.

African Americans may be able to trace their beginnings in America from 200 or 300 years ago. However, to link with their ancestors in Africa would be fraught with obstacles. It may be that genetic tests such as 23andMe will give us all better answers to our history.

I remember as a child being very curious about family origins. When I was born, my mother’s and my father’s families had been in the United States less than fifty years. My mother’s parents arrived independently from Poland in the first decade of the twentieth century. My father’s parents journeyed at the same time from Italy. They brought nothing with them but themselves. There are no family heirlooms of furniture or jewelry passed down from generation to generation and no written history—and barely an oral one. No farms, no estates, either.

I do have one cousin in Poland whom I met years ago. Walking into her small, postage stamp apartment in Warsaw felt like walking into a miniature replica of my mother’s living room. Hanka and her mannerisms reminded me of my mother also. Genetics? Culture? I don’t know.

According to Murray Bowen, a pioneer in family therapy, inter-generational patterns have some basis in biology. Now the field of genetics and the study of epigenetics affirm this notion. It is not that biology is destiny: epigenetics shows that genetic changes (these do not affect basic DNA) are affected by the environment. In other words, nurture has a profound, positive effect on nature.

Our biological families of origin do bequeath us our genetic heritage whether or not we inherit the farm or the furniture. Yet I do wonder what it is like to inherit that stuff. Is it gift or burden? Boon or bane? Or both?

Murray Bowen and his colleagues that followed have researched the dynamics of family businesses that have been passed down from generation to generation.

To be born into money and power sounds wonderful. On the other hand, it also sounds constricting. How does a person establish their own identity in the established family business? Even bigger question: where do women in the family fit into these usually patriarchal systems? It is unlikely for a woman to be given the baton when brothers are involved. Rare to see a sign saying “X and Daughters.” For now, it’s mostly “Y and Sons.” Perhaps, epigenetics and families of origin still have some evolving to do.

 

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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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