Family expectations can cause more than indigestion

Family expectations can cause more than indigestion

emotional eating

Surviving family expectations

We get on living our own lives to a greater or lesser extent. Our adult friends know us from what we share with them about ourselves and equally, we know them from what they share with us.

Key to these relationships is that even if we have known these friends for years or possibly even all our lives is that we interact with them pretty much as equals - peer to peer.Our own family background is a popular short cut in how we define ourselves when we meet new people. An ice-breaker conversation might focus on asking about or responding to questions about our profession and it makes for an easy way to talk for a while.

But the more you get to know someone the more you both would want a more nuanced insight than just what you do for a living and the conversation might well turn to sharing stories about one’s family background.We get on living our own lives to a greater or lesser extent. Our adult friends know us from what we share with them about ourselves and equally, we know them from what they share with us.

Key to these relationships is that even if we have known these friends for years or possibly even all our lives is that we interact with them pretty much as equals - peer to peer.

Our own family background is a popular short cut in how we define ourselves when we meet new people. An ice-breaker conversation might focus on asking about or responding to questions about our profession and it makes for an easy way to talk for a while.

But the more you get to know someone the more you both would want a more nuanced insight than just what you do for a living and the conversation might well turn to sharing stories about one’s family background.

It's what we say or don’t say about our family history that can show how far we have come in our own lives, or maybe even highlight how loyal we still are to our roots. Even the absence of a family of one’s own can be a major part of one’s personal story.

Again with friends and aquaintances, we get to edit our past and brush-over or add a glossy-sheen to our story as we share as little or as much information as we choose.

However, there is nothing like sitting down for a festive meal with ones extended family for all our sophisticated veneer to disappear taking us right back to our petulant, frustrated 14-year-old self.

We all know that family plays a big part in the creation of our own personal, emotional, intellectual, and social development. It is within our family that we are first exposed to the important influences of our life, the ones that often became the defining aspects of our personality, our emotions, our dreams, our fears.

In essence our identity - the aspects of ourselves that we share widely and the aspects of ourselves that only a few close friends or family know about. For me personally, my family background makes me think about all the things I am versus all the things I’m not.

One way to illustrate this is with my name: Sally Baker.

I was born Sally Baker to a father named either Harry Baker or a father called Henry Jackson who was himself born either in 1912 or 1914. The same man who just happened to have two names and two dates of birth on two different birth certificates. It turns out that for the British working class of the Edwardian period of over one hundred years ago that confusing situation was not actually that unusual.

So although in theory there was a 50:50 chance of me being called Sally Jackson I grew up obliviously to that as Sally Baker.

In the Baker-family, ambition was not encouraged. My mum took books away from me as I was growing up saying I spent too much time reading and that nothing good ever happened to a girl who knows too much. Hey who knew!

I recall my father often saying to the teenage me that what would really make him proud is if I trained and qualified as a nurse. Note not a doctor. That would have been unthinkable. He had me pegged to be a nurse and that was that. But it was his lack of stretch, the lack of aspiration from him though that, hurt me. The fact he didn’t aspire for me to be a doctor made me feel that there was something lacking or unworthy about me.

So in my case parental ambition to succeed at all costs wasn’t my pressure. For me, I felt the inverse pressure of a lack of expectation that my parents had vested in me.

We all know that difficult things happen while we’re growing up and sometimes, for some people really dreadful things happen too.

Whether we had caring or careless parents does not ultimately protect us from negative experiences out in the big-wide adult world. What makes the difference is the story we tell ourselves about those tough, challenging events we all inevitably have to deal with.

It is the judgements about ourselves that we make that stay with us and that script is often laid down insidiously at the heart of the family when we are young and unformed and powerless. Moreover, these formative judgements about whether we were measuring up or not often took place at meal times around the family dining table.

It is within the powerful family dynamic we pick up the subtle and sometimes not so subtle expressions of expectation about who we are supposed to be and our place in the world.

The echoes even decades later of those judgements can make festive family gatherings a bitter-sweet time for so many of us.

Everyone is shaped and moulded by their experience of growing up in their own particular family and individual personality are shaped by the strategies developed over-time to cope with their own unique set of familial pressures and expectations. It is inevitable that we bring the negative and the positive with us as we sit down again around the table.

A strategy to explore those old influences is to listen to your inner voice. If on hearing about your inner voice your response is, ‘What inner voice - I don’t have one’, then that is your inner voice. Your inner voice runs a continuous internal dialogue commenting on everything you do and often makes judgments on how well you do it too. For many people, their inner voice is rarely a source of uplifting encouragement. It is more likely to be an unremitting flow of self-criticism and negative self-judgments. Tuning in, and clearly hearing your inner voice is the crucial first step to silencing the draining, and the dispiriting stream of negativity that can happen continuously, just below conscious awareness like a toxic dripping tap.

If you celebrate Thanksgiving well that one is ticked off and done for another year but there is Christmas to go for lots of us which means you still have time to develop a strategy for coping with the pressures of family gatherings.

Awareness of the dynamic of your own family gatherings is a step closer to being more 'teflon' in your attitude so that old negative family attitudes and judgments just slide off you instead of triggering your inner-hard-done-by-teenager.

In my next post, I'll share with you the strategy I teach my clients so that you too can be immune to cruddy old family stuff and stay calm and indigestion free whenever a festive family gathering comes around....

If your own family dynamics are challenging or dysfunctional it's hard to break those entanglements on your own. If you feel you'd like some help book an obligation free call with me to see how I can help you. The link is at the top of the page.