#658 Chuck’s Place: Your Family is Not Your Family

Welcome to Chuck’s Place, where Chuck Ketchel expresses his thoughts, insights, and experiences! Many of the shamanic and psychological terms used in Chuck’s essays are defined in Tools & Definitions on our Psychotherapy website.

We are born with instincts ready to ensure our survival. A baby is preprogrammed to attach to its parents, to be nurtured and cared for, to ensure survival. Though our soul may choose the family we are born into to present a specific set of challenges necessary for its evolution, a baby has no choice over who its family members are. At the point of birth a baby is a blank slate with a psychic program, what Jung calls the archetypes of the collective unconscious, which are activated and direct the infant in the process of attachment. Hence, the deep emotional process of attachment, which is experienced so personally, is in fact quite impersonally driven. A baby will attach to any appropriate caregivers.

The same impersonal instinctive process is activated in parents when they have a child. Many a mother may exclaim: “I immediately fell in love the instant I saw my child!” An inner maternal archetype is activated in this mother, releasing powerful energy experienced as love, and projected onto her infant. However, in truth, this mother has no clue who this child really is. I am not intending to be offensive with this statement, as it can be argued that a deep relationship is already in place prior to birth. However, a relationship of consciousness with a separate being is simply not yet possible. There is as yet no real personal relationship; the child has yet to discover its personality separate from the mother. A separate entity with full consciousness of self will evolve over time.

Inborn, archetypal processes, quite impersonal in nature, are programs preserved and activated in the collective unconscious to exert a guiding influence and sufficient energy to form and stabilize a family unit. Our human process is no different from that of birds or any other species that instinctively carries out a set of inborn patterns to bring a newborn into the world, i.e., the building of a nest and the feeding of a helpless being.

Relationships and feelings within the family are prompted by specific archetypes. Hence, in truth, a child’s “love” for its parents is largely impersonal, not really a function of an actual conscious relationship. A parent’s love is also largely archetypally driven. Children are programmed to need, love, and idealize their parents. I do not mean to suggest that children and parents don’t get to know each other and love each other as real people; however, a large percent of the bond between parent and child is a function of a collective instinctive program. If the actual parents are what Winnicott * called “good enough” then children will have little difficulty following their instinctive archetypal imperative to “love thy parents.” If a parent is not “good enough,” there results an interruption in an archetypal developmental process that may result, ultimately, in the child growing into adulthood with deep issues of insecurity, anxiety, and depression. For this child/adult it is likely that adult life will be burdened with powerful concerns around parental failures in childhood. However, the actual issue resides within the psyche of the child/adult in its ego’s relationship with parental archetypes whose energies have yet to be harnessed by the ego in a positive way.

Although an adult may seek reparative relationships in adulthood to resolve this archetypal dilemma, this often results in the unfulfilled childhood needs being acted out in adult relationships, leads to endless confusion, and is rarely successful. Equally, an adult child may continuously seek to have its needs met by its family of origin, which in fact can become a lifelong problem, regardless of how old everyone becomes. In therapy, clients with these issues are encouraged to take the hero’s journey, the inner journey, to obtain their birthright in a new relationship with their inner archetypes, fully birthing into adulthood. At the adult stage, a relationship with actual parents cannot solve a grown child’s issues. As adults, we must assume responsibility for ourselves as adults, even when we really don’t feel like adults. That is what makes the inner journey a heroic journey: the journeyer takes on frightening tasks, seemingly beyond its ability, and in the process accrues successes that ultimately transform the hero into a genuine adult.

The truth is, there may in fact be little or no real relationship with actual family members. Real adult relationships can only happen between equals, not with people who use power and position, based of their archetypal roles, as the dominant feature of interaction. The truest relationship between a grown child and a parent would be one based on genuine friendship, affection, and appreciation of each other’s unique identities and journeys, not one based on need and expectation. If we want to have a real relationship with our parents or grown children we must shed the ancient archetypal roles that have become outdated and inappropriate to the essence of life: our soul’s journey. Nobody owes anybody anything. We are all adults with individual destinies to fulfill. Though we once may have shared a powerful bond, personally felt, impersonally driven, once necessary, our real reason for being here is to discover and master our individual challenges. If we can arrive at a place of mutual support and appreciation of each other’s challenges, assuming full responsibility for our own lives, regardless of what did or didn’t happen in the time when the family was deeply connected as a unit, then we can truly have relationships with family beyond the family, when the possibility for real relationship actually begins.

I close with Kahlil Gibran’s poem On Children taken from The Prophet, which captures the essence of what I have attempted to express today.

Your children are not your children.
They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you,
And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.

You may give them your love but not your thoughts,
For they have their own thoughts.
You may house their bodies but not their souls,
For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow,

which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.
You may strive to be like them,
but seek not to make them like you.
For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.

You are the bows from which your children
as living arrows are sent forth.
The archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite,

and He bends you with His might
that His arrows may go swift and far.
Let your bending in the archer’s hand be for gladness;
For even as He loves the arrow that flies,
so He loves also the bow that is stable.

If you wish to correspond, please feel free to post a comment below.

Until we meet again,

NOTE: Read about Winnicott in Wikipedia.

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