Addiction Recovery and Your Family of Origin

When it comes to universal values, few can offer as many long-term benefits to someone struggling with compulsive sexual and/or romantic behavior as the development of a healthy role within their family of origin. This is especially true for those adults who fantasize and/or obsess while engaged in romantic relationships. For those who have already developed a strong connection to their family, the road to recovery is a much simpler one.

That is not to say that everyone must develop a healthy association with their family to achieve emotional fulfillment--not at all. What will be important for you as an individual, will be to develop a healthy perception of your role within your family of origin--be that as an outcast, a victim, a leader, a child, etc. Understanding your actual role within your own family is a key to being able to develop such a value in a healthy manner. It is one thing to be raised in a family where you do not feel loved, it is quite another to believe, as an adult, that because you were raised in such an environment, that you are not worthy of being loved. This is a common misperception that many people who have never developed healthy family values experience. For some, developing such healthy family values may be to acknowledge that their family is unhealthy, and that, as a child, they had no real control over this. That they truly were a victim of their own childhood. Further development involving this person's "family values" might include taking the time to understand the toxic effects of the environment in which they were raised, or learning to integrate associated values (like forgiveness and compassion). The point is, no matter what your past holds, from abuse to blissfulness, if you are struggling with compulsive sexual and/or romantic behavior--further developing the values associated with your family of origin will help to balance/stimulate your emotional life.

The Role of the Family

For children, one of the most important roles a family can play is to provide them with a safe, nurturing environment where they have the opportunity to test and develop their social boundaries--boundaries that will later be used to develop healthy relationships outside of their family structure. Too often, when these boundaries are not properly developed, further social development is retarded, thus creating an additional stressor throughout the person's life. A common example of this would be the domineering parent who extorted nearly constant behavioral control over the child throughout their childhood and early teen years, thus stripping them of the critical ability to develop confidence in managing their own emotional awareness and decision-making. More on this in the recovery workshop.

Unconditional Love

Without question, to already have recognized and received unconditional love from a parental figure is to have experienced the type of love that must exist within oneself for the greatest amount of emotional stimulation to be produced from one's family. Additionally, having experienced such love from a family member will ease the further development of healthy feelings involving others outside of the family (and ourselves). Unfortunately, for many of us, such unconditional love is nothing more than an intellectual concept. It is something that we have read about, imagined, recognized in others--but never experienced. Instead, our families have historically been an overwhelming source of conflict and stress, forcing unnatural and/or cataclysmic events into our lives such as adoption; verbal/emotional, physical or sexual abuse; neglect; death/divorce, etc. Additional sources of familial stress might stem from the parenting style in which you were raised: with authoritative, critical and/or perfectionistic parenting styles triggering lifelong issues with anxiety, lack of confidence and overall emotional imbalance/low self-esteem. Or, you may have derived stress from a constant parental pressure to succeed in all areas of your life. For some, after many years of struggling with such "family issues", you may have even made the conscious decision to resign yourself to the fact that you will never have the opportunity to experience the power and positive emotions that can be produced by an association with a healthy family. Which, of course, is a deception…but one that provides a temporary relief over the alternative.

All healthy human beings need to feel loved by someone they would consider to be "family". All healthy human beings need to feel a connection to a parent/parent figure--this sense of "family" is a necessity in life. Can one be happy without ever experiencing it? Yes, but it will take an extraordinary emotional adjustment, with the family being replaced by some other significant nurturing target--like God, or animals. Otherwise, it is not hard to see how the development of relationship addictions and romantic obsessions might be used to balance the enormous emotional burden of not experiencing the unconditional love sought through one's family. Even those adults who go on to connect with their own spouse/children in a deeply emotional way, continue to require a personal connection to their family or origin (whether that family is biological or not is irrelevant). Those who have broken their ties with their family of origin (either through choice or through circumstance) will continue to suffer emotional consequences as a result of this disruption. Granted, the amount of relief gained from the disruption may outweigh the stress that continuing the relationship would have otherwise caused, but stress will be experienced when a person has no healthy connection to their "family of origin"--and their parents, in particular.

Exercise: Families of Origin

What is important in this lesson, is that you take time to examine your feelings towards your family of origin. Not your surface feelings that produce an instant emotional response, but to honestly examine the efforts, intentions and messages that were communicated to you throughout your life span from important family members--especially those fulfilling a parental role. To spend some time considering the amount of emotional stress/relief that your family of origin has produced throughout your life.

Spend fifteen minutes thinking about the role your family has played in your life. Don't write, don't watch TV, don't do anything but think about your own family of origin. As you think, consider the following:

1) What does unconditional love mean to you, and have you ever experienced it? From whom? Towards whom?

2) How did the parental style in which you were raised affect you both positively/negatively?

When you have finished, discuss your thoughts with someone you trust. And/or, post them in the support forum for feedback.

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