Family of Origin Work: Is it Time to Start Digging?

Being a therapist in private practice working with individuals and couples, I see a vast array of issues that people bring.  It’s understandable that many hope to solve the problems as soon as possible.  Efficiency is always a goal for me too.  But often a solution-focused approach isn’t enough, especially if deeper and unhealthy roots have taken hold, only getting further tangled around each other with the passage time.

Tangled Roots

What do I mean by tangled roots?  They are the belief systems having taken hold based on earlier experiences.  If you struggle repeatedly in your relationships or in your sense of self, it’s possible you have an unhealthy root system that can benefit from untangling and replanting.  Perhaps you learned some things about yourself or how others will be with you that don’t serve you now or even more important, are inaccurate.

Family of origin work is a specific intentional exploration or tending to your history; the quality of your parental relationships, your environment, the existence of traumatic experiences and how you were shaped as a child and upward. This type of therapy then serves as a guide to challenge unhealthy belief systems, coping strategies and defense mechanisms for improved emotional and relationship health.

I recently had a client ask, “How does my current relationship have anything to do with my childhood or relationship with my mother?”  This is a great question and a place of misunderstanding for many.

Your functioning in intimate relationship ties to your experiences with your primary caregivers because of the similarity of need in those relationships.  Your lessons learned in the earliest experiences carry forth in the way your brain is wired, your vulnerabilities, your belief about yourself, others and the world around you.  Not only parent relationships but other circumstances impact you, perhaps more than you realize, for your benefit or perhaps not.

Some Signs it’s Time to Dig Deeper into your Root System (Family of Origin)

  • You carry an underlying sense of not being good enough.
  • You struggle with emotional dysregulation (easily angered, sad or afraid).
  • You repeat unhealthy relationship patterns.
  • You struggle with addiction.
  • You have trust issues that show up in your relationships.

The first step is to be aware if there are unresolved issues (or trauma) in your history.  Without awareness there is no apparent need for change (to the individual, anyway).  And many people move through life in an automatic thinking and reaction pattern, sometimes continuing to struggle and having no idea why.

Contemplate whether any of the above fits for you.  Spend some time noticing your thinking, mood shifts and behaviors over the next week or so.  Ask yourself the following:

  • Is there a pattern?
  • Are you vulnerable in ways you hadn’t noticed before?
  • Does any of it ring familiar in the least bit?
  • Is it possible the roots to your struggles run deeper than you’d considered?

This is the first of a three part series on family of origin work:

(1) Family of Origin Work:  Is it Time to Start Digging?

(2) Family of Origin Work:  How to Untangle and Tend to Your Obstacles

(3) Family of Origin Work:  Steps to Heal

*If you suspect you could benefit from further self-exploration, see my mini guide, Family of Origin Work:  Untangle Your Unhealthy Roots, which this series is based on.

Lisa Brookes Kift, MFT

Lisa Brookes Kift, MFT

Lisa Brookes Kift, MFT is the creator of with emotional and relationship health articles, guides, courses and other tools for individuals and couples. She is a frequent consultant for the media having appeared in,, and others. Lisa has a private practice in Marin County, CA and offers Emotional Health and Relationship Consultations via email, phone or video conference.

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