If the main problem in your life is your relationship (love, friends, or family members with whom you have ongoing struggles), you may think the term “addiction” has no place in your life … but you are probably wrong. Many relationship difficulties are based on what I call “addictionships.” I coined this term to describe relationships that don’t work well because they are built on erroneous beliefs about ourselves. In other words, even if the problem isn’t you – in some ways, it is. It doesn’t mean the relationship problems are your fault, but it does mean that you need to understand your role in order to make the changes that will make life better. Whether you are with a person who bullies and berates you, has substance abuse issues, or works all the time and pays no attention to you, there are reasons why you are in the situation you are in. With relationships, the best predictor of the future is the past. In ways you may not be aware of, your past influences your future. Understanding this better (the ways it is destructive along with the ways it is constructive) will improve your life, now and in the future.
Why Childhood Experiences Matter
Self-awareness begins early in childhood and develops over time. Often a child has an experience that he or she doesn’t quite understand (for example, if Mom disappears for a period of a few weeks). Lacking the tools to evaluate what is happening and why, a child may make assumptions that are wrong (Mom got mad at me and left).
This type of assumption gets built into a framework of beliefs we hold as the “truth” and that we use to make everyday decisions. These beliefs or truths are like computer software that analyzes information and makes decisions based on programmed rules. But as we all know, computer software can be embedded with errors that cause huge problems. Similarly, the human mind is full of learned errors about how people act toward us and why … and uncovering and correcting them is a necessary step in living a more mindful and truthful life leading to greater happiness.
Understanding how your old beliefs and conditioned fears shape your behavior is the first step toward figuring out why you repeat certain patterns – perhaps falling in love with men who make you feel “stupid” or “who won’t make a commitment.” Identifying the so-called “truths” that you’ve been using to guide your life (“I’m not very smart” or “people disappear unexpectedly”) allows you to choose between the ones that serve you well and the ones that don’t. You can pull yourself out of “addictionships” that are based on unhealthy beliefs and start having real “relationships” that make life better and richer.
A Path to Change – Completing a Genogram
Before setting out on the path to change, you need to know where you are coming from. Self-reflection and self-awareness are the basis for change. One tool for obtaining a brief history of self is to know, or have some idea, of the biological and psychological traits that are unique to you and your family tree. This is called a genogram.
Got your journal? Here are the questions you’ll be contemplating on your path to change:
- What do you know about the life experiences of your parents, grandparents, and other significant people in your life? Write down brief memories, adjectives, facts, and your feelings about each of the people who played an important role in your childhood. Examples of information that should be included: Illnesses, abuse, addiction, mental illness, immigration, occupation, habits, hobbies, wars survived or fought, marriage, divorce, death, financial status, political affiliation, and character traits. Now think and write about what stands out to you.
- Taking each category of person (grandparents, parents, caregivers), how do you think their pasts may have impacted your life?
- Make a list of the positive ways that the life stories of these significant people impacted your life.
- Make a list of the negative ways that the life stories of these significant people impacted your life.
- What patterns or traits from your childhood blueprint are you recreating in your adult life today?