Posted on 17 December 2011, 1:54
A successful but deeply-troubled man came to see me this week. After listening to his story, I made a few observations, all of which felt fairly obvious.
‘Why has no one said these things to me before?’ he asked. ‘Someone should have said these things to me a long time ago.’
In particular, I’d made him aware of one or two damaging family dynamics that he was unaware of. And now he’s starting his life again, from a fresh vantage point.
It’s remarkable how we ignore the effect of our family on us. For some, it’s a matter they dare not even consider, too frightened to go there. But the hard-wiring of our brain was complete by the age of four and it hard-wired in response to the adults around us. Almost all human suffering and unhappiness arises from this hard-wiring.
This is why I wrote Forsaking the Family, now published by White Crow. We’ll never be free until we have come to terms with our family. I offer a short extract from the opening chapter:
‘The great and good love family values; it’s a fine sounding phrase and always in season. Family values is sewn on the banner of all politicians, while remaining the insistent lobby of the religious also. It is, however, not only a meaningless phrase but a dangerous one. For families have the capacity to destroy people, being the single most manipulative force in the world today. Most families incorporate a well-organized set of prejudice, false assumption and discreet or blatant mistreatment. For evidence of their effects we need only look at the human race or, more pertinently, ourselves. We each live the damage done by our families, but do we question them? Not often, because it simply isn’t allowed.
The sacred cow of family deserves only worship, which leaves the crying child within us, desperate and unheard. The child thus smothered takes its revenge daily.
There is in fact no such thing as family. It is a word heavy with association but light on precision. Neither history nor the dictionary affords it a particular meaning or form written in stone. It describes a set of connections to do with parentage, ancestry or household. It describes a wide variety of structures of relating, from a medieval household including lord, lady, legitimate offspring, ladies in waiting, servants, illegitimate offspring, retainers, dogs and grandma, to a lay community of women on a windswept island; from a small flat in London where a white couple live with their two adopted children from Guatemala, to a native American settlement where the family is the tribe.
Family describes connections and structures. It says nothing, however, about the quality of those connections or structures and in the business of life, it is only the quality of relationship which matters. If the sacred cow of family is worth anything, it will be because of the quality of relationship created.
The unconscious will see no need for this book for being strangers to themselves, they will be strangers also to the need to discover what created them. They will not wish their sleep-walking disturbed and will be angry at this unnecessary muck-raking. But for those stirring from sleep; for those glimpsing the possibility of consciousness and beginning to smell the coffee of life in their own particular way - they will be most interested to reflect on the institution which created us all, and in particular, the one which created them.
Life is not complicated. It’s difficult but it’s not complicated, for it is about two things and two things only. First, there is the discernment of where life lies for you and second, there is the choosing of it.
It’s simple really: true discernment followed by brave action. We feel our way towards what is life-giving for us in the world, which may take time; and then we consider how it best may be achieved and begin to act on this inner encounter with hope. There can be few arenas in life where these twin callings of discernment and action are more pressing than in the territory of family.’
Forsaking the Family by Simon Parke is published by White Crow Books