Getting to Know Ourselves Through Our Parents

Recently I wrote a post about an Oprah Master Class Podcast with Jane Fonda. One of the bits of wisdom that Jane imparted, got me to thinking about how we often learn some valuable things about ourselves when we try and understand our own parents’ stories.

When I am gathering family of origin information with a client, one of the questions I ask of them is – “if you could describe your mother to me in three words, what three words would you use?” I will explore the words they chose and what is their understanding of how their mom got a particular characteristic. I will repeat the process with their dad.

Sometimes clients struggle with what words to use; other times there is no hesitation. Sometimes a client will say “Three words to describe them now or then?”; we explore both. Sometimes they will list a characteristic and quickly follow it up with a justification. There are times when they feel guilty about “talking badly” about their parent; I explain that it is never about blame, but rather about understanding. Sometimes the words bring tears, other times anger, sometimes love, sometimes no emotion at all.

What is important for me in this exercise is that it gives me clues as to their overall story. What it gives the client is the chance to understand through exploration; to gain greater insight as to how they might have fit into their parents lives. Very often, we carry the weight of our parent’s story; examining it in an objective space allows them to see things more clearly.

Although this is an exercise I use in therapy, there is merit in trying it yourself. Write out the three words you would choose to describe each of your parents and why you chose those words….then be curious as to how you understand how they got those particular characteristics. The answers just might surprise you 🙂

Photo credit: http://Photo by Daiga Ellaby on Unsplash

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