Going Home Again – An Opportunity for Emotional Growth
It is often said that home is where our story begins. For many of us here in Orlando, that story actually began somewhere other than Florida. And with the summer months just around the corner, many of us will be taking a trip home, where our story began, to visit family and friends. A visit home can be a wonderful experience, filled with reconnecting, reminiscing, and creating new memories. For some, however, going home again can be a challenging and painful experience.
For many adults, spending time with extended family members often rekindles unresolved feelings of confusion, bitterness, and longing. Those unresolved feelings can manifest themselves in the form of anxiety, depression, self-doubt, as well as communication challenges and relational issues.
As a marriage and family therapist, I often look to a client’s past, specifically their childhood family experiences, for a better understanding of their current issues and concerns. This approach is known as multigenerational family therapy and it recognizes the significance of past family relationships, in relation to the client’s current therapeutic concerns and needs.
Dr. Murray Bowen was a trained psychiatrist and the pioneer of the multigenerational family therapy approach. It was through his work treating schizophrenia during the 1950’s, that Dr. Bowen began to recognize that treating symptoms of schizophrenia in the individual, was much more effective when he involved family members in the treatment, particularly the patient’s mother. Through this work, Dr. Bowen recognized that the entire family was an emotional system that was influenced greatly by past generations and extended family members. In other words, our emotions do not exist in a bubble. What we feel, how we express our feelings, and how we act because of those feelings, all have meaningful influence on those around us, especially our family members. And our story, comprised of our relational experiences, traditions, and beliefs, has often been influenced by extended family members and passed from one generation to the next.
A notable concept within multigenerational family therapy, is the concept of ‘going home again’. This concept encourages individuals to go home, to the family they grew up with, and re-experience their family members without emotional reactivity. Often easier said than done! As mentioned, whether we live near or far in relation to our extended family members, going home again can certainly stir up an array of uncomfortable emotions.
The multigenerational approach assists individuals in dealing with uncomfortable emotions associated with extended family relationships by encouraging individual growth in emotional regulation and emotional independence. Dr. Bowen used the term personal differentiation when referring to personal emotional growth. Personal differentiation is a two-fold concept that comprises an individual’s ability to separate their thoughts and their emotions, as well as their ability to exercise emotional independence, while still maintaining respectful and meaningful relationships with loved ones.
Increasing one’s differentiation level is about learning and utilizing tools that can assist in self-regulating emotions, setting effective emotional boundaries with family members, and accepting and changing the not-so-pretty relational interaction patterns that have been passed down from generations and have shaped current relationships. It can be a challenge to increase one’s personal differentiation level and it often involves learning how to assume a neutral emotional position, expressing differences without attacking, defending, withdrawing, or expecting family members to agree with us or offer us reassurance or words of apology.
It often involves a great deal of self-reflection and the re-living of painful memories as well. Of course, trauma in childhood is something to be considered here. ‘Going home again’, when trauma is involved, isn’t always the most effective course of action. In this case, a multigenerational approach can assist the individual in developing and maintaining appropriate physical and emotional boundaries with those who have caused them harm in the past.
Maya Angelou wrote, “The ache for home lives in all of us, the safe place where we can go as we are and not be questioned.”.
It’s normal to look for ‘home’ outside of ourselves, relying on others to provide us with feelings of reassurance and peace. But in reality, our true ‘home’, that safe place where we can go and be fully accepted, is within ourselves. With the proper guidance, ‘going home again’ can be a positive experience regardless of past conflict and frustration. When an individual learns to rely on themselves emotionally, the love, kindness, and acceptance they do receive from others can then be more fully appreciated and trusted.
Navigating relationships with extended family members can certainly be challenging, but there are a number of tools that can be utilized to assist in this process. If you are experiencing unresolved family conflict or concerns, such as emotional and physical boundary issues with family members, or would simply like to discover ways in which you can become more emotionally independent, please contact Life Enhancement Counseling Services today at 407-443-8862 to schedule an appointment with one of our experienced Orlando mental health counselors.
For more information on Dr. Murray Bowen and the multigenerational family therapy approach, click here.
Source: Brown, J. (2007). Going home again: a family of origin approach to individual therapy [online]. Psychotherapy in Australia, 14(1).