Feb 01

3/2 Conflict Solutions and our Family of Origin

In this second post on our Third series of Personality Issues that influence Conflict Solutions, we venture into the complex area of your Family of Origin, or FOO for short. 

Did you read our practical case study enough so you can see the challenges facing our two people?  In this post, we want to examine how our Family of Origin contributes to the happiness – or lack of happiness – in finding Conflict Solutions.

A.  What is our ‘Family of Origin’?

1.   To begin with, our Family of Origin (or FOO) refers to that first and most lasting impact on our views of ourselves. 

This environment influenced our sense of self worth, our values, how we handle conflict and our motivation for long term goals.  Much of who we are begins in those early environments.  It is the family you were born into or the family you experience during those early years of your life that will shape your whole view of the struggles and security you feel about living.  We are shaped by how we are nurtured – or the lack of nurture.

2.  This early environment teaches us patterns of relationships

Many Mediation Counsellors believe that the majority of problems found in most conflicts actually stem from what the person saw or were taught in their own home during those early years.  The basis for what you expect out of life, and out of your relationships will be influenced by what you experienced with your own parents and siblings.

It follows then, that some people expect the same patterns as they experienced in life with their parents; others want the direct opposite.  These expectations are the seed bed for disasters or successes.

3.  Our FOO is the foundation for our Personal Values

Every child receives their sense of self-worth and personal value by the way they were treated in their family of origin.  A child has no ability to sort truth from false truths others tell them.  Verbal put-downs, harsh negative judgements about their achievements will influence personality issues.

4.  Remember this poem:    Children Learn What They Live

If children live with criticism, they learn to condemn.
If children live with hostility, they learn to fight.
If children live with fear, they learn to be apprehensive.
If children live with pity, they learn to feel sorry for themselves.
If children live with ridicule, they learn to be shy.
If children live with jealousy, they learn what envy is.
If children live with shame, they learn to feel guilty.
If children live with tolerance, they learn to be patient.
If children live with encouragement, they learn to be confident.
If children live with praise, they learn to appreciate.
If children live with approval, they learn to like themselves.
If children live with acceptance, they learn to find love in the world.
If children live with recognition, they learn to have a goal.
If children live with sharing, they learn to be generous.
If children live with honesty and fairness, they learn what truth and justice
If children live with security, they learn to have faith in themselves and in
those around them.
If children live with friendliness, they learn that the world is a nice place
in which to live.
If children live with serenity, they learn to have peace of mind.
What are your children living with today?

(author and source unknown)


B.  We either do the same as our FOO or many do the opposite

1.  Often you can see the ‘pendulum swing’ between generations.

An example:  If I was disciplined harshly, I might chose the opposite of “When I have kids, I’m not going to set any punishment; we can talk things through.”  Surprise, surprise though when life doesn’t go quite that simply.  …or when you see your grandchildren experiencing harsher punishments than you gave your own children.   ,,,and so the pendulum swings back and forth.   …but why?

2.  An example will help

We learn how to handle conflicts by what happened in our home.  I saw a clear example of this when my husband, Daniel and I were teaching a Conflict Resolution course for our Counselling Centre.   The aim was to show how each person’s parent/s handled conflict but ‘non-verbally’; you could show the behaviour rather than talk about it.

In my family, it was THE LOOK’ I received from my mother that brought me into line.  Physical punishment was never used.  However, I almost fell off my chair when my husband showed how his mother kept order.  It was ‘slap, slap, slap…and the silent treatment’.  The withdrawal of love deeply affected his whole family.

Please let me say, I have never been physically abused by my husband but for many relationships, the scene was set for that to happen.

3.  So …how were the expectations of our conflict based on these FOO models? 

Our concepts of acceptable behaviours were taught through what we saw in our family, as we have already said.  What we consider ‘normal’ actually happened behind our closed doors.  It is very common to grow up thinking all family were like ours.  If physical punishment and abuse happened in our family, often that is the way we think all families were treated.

C.  Our FOO still is influencing our life

There are many, many areas where our FOO still influences our relationships, even if we are adults and in other relationships outside our family.  The following will match the list of issues every person must face:

  1.   Marriage Expectations – our view of married life is coloured by FOO,
  2.   Personality Issues – we are shaped by the family we grew up with,
  3.   Communication Skills – how communication happen when were a child will be the pattern for your adult life,
  4.   Conflict Resolution – handling conflict is deeply  influenced by our FOO examples,
  5.   Financial Management – the example we learned will follow us in later life,
  6.   Leisure Activities – these interests are foundational to later years,
  7.   Sexual Expectations – even if not talked about, you early sex ed lessons are still there,
  8.   Children and Parenting – discipline and attitudes to family members are set in our early years,
  9.   Family and Friends – the place and value of our family’s future roles are set in our childhood,
  10.   Relationship Roles – observing how dad treated mum and all the other siblings leave deep impressions of ‘the way things ought to be’,
  11.   Spiritual Beliefs – any teachings on morality, God – or the lack of these will influence us as adults.

D.  In Conclusion

As we can see, every area of your life is touched, moulded and marked by your original family or families.  Part of the challenge is to sort through when the conflict is about the unresolved past – about the FOO …….versus the issues of the moment.  We will look at some of the keys to help separate and resolve such conflicts in our later posts.

      As we continue this series, I have also included more of Jacko and Chelsea’s story to illustrate the FOO issues.  Since this area so is foundational to all good relationships, we can’t emphasise it strong enough.  Understanding how your FOO influences you and the people around you is part of the keys to a healthy Conflict Solutions.

Susanne Fengler, Blog Author

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