Family of Origin Issues

Your family of origin—the family you grew up in, as opposed to the people you currently live with—is the place where you typically learn to become who you are.

From our family of origin a person learns how to communicate, process emotions, and get their needs met. People also learn many of their values and beliefs from their families. Families are where we develop into who we are and what we think, believe, feel, and do. If you are having emotional concerns related to your family of origin, it may be helpful for you to seek help from a mental health professional to sort through these issues.


If your family of origin was dysfunctional and you faced issues such as abuse, addictions, neglect, violence, or enmeshment, your sense of self or reality is likely damaged. It is likely that you might experience difficulties in the following areas: appropriate levels of self-esteem, in protecting yourself from harmful relationships and people, in speaking up for yourself, in knowing what and how to ask for your needs and wants to be met, or in knowing what is healthy balance in our lives.

You might also, in many cases, have developed coping strategies that worked well at one time, but no longer serve their original purpose. Without an awareness of how our past affects our present and future, it is likely these patterns will be repeated over time causing the same results over and over. A child who witnesses a parent acting dishonestly, for example, may develop a tendency to behave dishonestly as well. A parent who is so focused on having a romantic relationship they neglect the child, it is likely once the child matures that they too will be obsessive about finding, pursuing, and maintaining a romantic relationship above all else.

Children who do not feel loved by their parents often develop a false sense of self as a way to be accepted and loved. A false sense of self is developing into who we believe our parents or caregivers want us to be and not who we really are. We do this to stay emotionally safe in a dysfunctional environment. Often times the child has been shamed and belittled for their feelings and thoughts so they learn to shut down and develop an alternate self that is based on what the child believes their parent wants. A child automatically believes that if their parents do not make time for them, pay attention to them, listen and gaze at them that something must be wrong with who they are so they need to mold into who their parents want them to be. As a result, a child can stay in an emotionally immature state sacrificing their needs and wants and giving their power and sometimes bodies away.

People in therapy may find it difficult to confront the ways their childhood has contributed to their current difficulties. In therapy, the work we do is not focused on blaming the parents yet rather finding a place of truth, perspective, clarity, and healing from the past.


Whether we intend to or not, people do carry their family of origin experiences and lessons with them throughout life. Issues in your adult life with friendships and relationships may reflect painful patterns of family of origin. A person who sought attention from parents by attempting to be perfect may continue to work towards perfection in adulthood in order to achieve approval from their romantic partner, for example. Some people may also, consciously or unconsciously, place certain expectations onto their partner that they may be unaware, unable, or unwilling to live up to.

Bringing unaddressed or unconscious family of origin issues into a romantic relationship can create problems that are often confusing and overwhelming. Your parents may have divorced and as a result of that, you may resolve to avoid divorce at all costs and work to prevent it, but unresolved effects of family of origin, such as communication problems or difficulty with trust, are powerful and can cause unmanageability and chaos in relationships. In order to fully understand and change your behaviors in adult relationships, it will be necessary to identify why those behaviors developed and what you can do to make different choices in the future- all relating back to messages and lessons we learned in childhood.


Severe abuse or neglect from our family of origin can often lead to serious difficulties throughout life, such as self-esteem problems, a lack of boundaries or healthy limits, difficulty knowing and asking for their needs to be met, and a lack of compassion for self and others. Therapy can help you sort through these distressing memories and emotions that are associated with neglect, abuse, and enmeshment.

In therapy, hopefully a person comes in with openness to explore and a thirst for learning on how their past influences their current lives. We can begin to examine the reasons that certain life issues have developed and can likely come to understand the reasons behind your certain choices, beliefs, and emotions. Working through your family issues can help you overcome fears, help learn to trust yourself, develop a stronger connection with those you love, and achieve a deeper sense of peace and wellbeing.

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By Good Therapy References: Can the Past Define Our Future? – Family of Origin and Relationships. (2010, November 1). Retrieved from | Galvin, K. (2010). Tell Me About Genograms. Retrieved from | Ronald, Sabatelli, and Bartle-Haring Suzanne. “Family-of-origin Experiences and Adjustment in Married Couples.” Journal of Marriage and Family 65.1 (2003): 159-69. Print.