I was recently sent this link to a Ted Talk from a client:
It explores the meaning of happiness and the differences between the actual experience a person may have and the memories of the experience. When an experience is deemed “bad” or negative, it has more to do with mitigating emotional factors than the actual experience.
The talk explores some of these emotional mitigating factors (such as income), but as I was listening, I thought about family systems and how the themes and patterns and levels of intensity of our extended families impact how we deem an experience to be positive or negative. For example, if I had repeated, emotionally negative interactions with my mother when I was a teenager, how does this impact the stories I tell about emotionally positive interactions I may have had with her as well? Does the degree of intensity (or fusion) determine more of my “memory” of the past than the actual experiences? Does this degree of intensity determine how I see even future interactions with her?
Consider your adult experiences of visiting your parents or siblings or extended family. Consider the following list and how it may influence the memory or story you tell about these experiences. (P.S. This exercise will be more helpful if you’re reading up on Bowen Theory…Extraordinary Relationships by Roberta Gilbert is a great start.)
- The intensity of emotionality between you and your mother – whether a kind of can’t-get-away-from-you-even-if-I-try or can’t-get-enough-of-you
- The intensity of emotionality between you and your father – whether a kind of can’t-get-away-from-you-even-if-I-try or can’t-get-enough-of-you
- How does being an oldest, a middle, or a youngest sibling (or some combination) impact how you “remember” your visits with them?
- How does being an oldest, a middle, a youngest sibling to brothers or to sisters (the gender of your sibs makes a big difference!)
- What is your functioning position in a triangle either with your spouse or with your parents or siblings? i.e. Are you an underfunctioner? (Do you shut down or become dependent when around them?) Or are you an overfunctioner? (Do you take over and get a pseudo sense of self based on others’ dependency on you?) In other words, an overfunctioner may deem an experience as positive while an underfunctioner may deem it as negative – not as a function of the actual experience but as a function of their position/the role they are playing.