Ever feel like your parents’ drama is playing on repeat in your own life? Maybe you find yourself drawn to partners who remind you a little too much of your mom (or dad) – not necessarily in a good way. 

Or perhaps you just can’t seem to shake that nagging voice in your head telling you you’re “not good enough,” a voice that sounds suspiciously like your Aunt Mildred’s.

Welcome to the wonderful world of family of origin issues. 

We’ve all got them, those baggage items from our childhood home that can sometimes feel like they’re weighing us down. But what exactly are these issues, and how do they play out in our adult lives? 

Let’s unpack this together.

What are the Issues of Family of Origin?

Think back to your childhood. Was your house a chaotic symphony of yelling matches and slammed doors? Maybe things were a little too quiet, with unspoken tensions hanging heavy in the air. 

Perhaps your parents weren’t around (physically or emotionally), leaving you to fend for yourself.

These are all examples of family of origin issues. They can encompass a wide range of experiences, including:

  • Growing up in a dysfunctional family: This could involve anything from unhealthy communication patterns (“the silent treatment” anyone?) to emotional neglect or even abuse.
  • Unresolved family conflicts: Maybe your parents never saw eye-to-eye on anything, and those childhood arguments still feel fresh in your mind.
  • Unrealistic expectations or pressure: Were you constantly pushed to be the star athlete or the valedictorian, leaving you feeling like you could never measure up?
  • Addiction or mental health issues in the family: If you grew up in a household where substance abuse or mental illness was a constant presence, it can leave a lasting impact.

These are just a few examples, and of course, the specific issues will vary depending on your unique family story.

What is the Family of Origin Disorder?

Hold on a sec – before you start Googling yourself into a frenzy, there’s actually no diagnosable disorder called “family of origin disorder.” Phew! However, the unresolved issues stemming from your family of origin can contribute to the development of mental health conditions like anxiety, depression, or relationship problems.

What is a Dysfunctional Family of Origin?

Imagine your family as a mobile hanging above the fireplace. It’s supposed to be a calming presence, gently swaying in the breeze. But instead of a peaceful dance, the whole thing is a wobbly mess, threatening to topple over at any moment. 

That’s the feeling of a dysfunctional family of origin.

Here’s where the dysfunction creeps in:

  • Communication Catastrophe: Picture this: important issues are swept under the rug like dust bunnies, or arguments erupt like a volcano spewing criticism and blame. Everyone walks on eggshells, afraid to speak their truth for fear of the fallout.
  • Boundaries Gone Wild: Healthy families have clear boundaries, like invisible fences that give everyone space to be themselves. In a dysfunctional family, these boundaries are all messed up. Maybe you felt like you had to parent your own parents (parentification anyone?), or your personal space was constantly invaded.
  • Emotional Abuse Under the Guise of “Love”: Put-downs disguised as “tough love,” manipulation that makes you question your own sanity, and guilt trips that leave you feeling like a terrible person – these are all forms of emotional abuse that can leave deep scars.
  • Substance Abuse Stealing the Spotlight: When addiction takes center stage, it throws the whole family dynamic off balance. Chaos and instability become the norm, making it hard to feel safe and secure.
  • Pressure Cooker of Expectations: Imagine never feeling good enough, no matter what you achieve. This is the result of unrealistic expectations piled on by a dysfunctional family. Constantly pressured to be the star athlete, the perfect student, or the golden child can leave you feeling like a constant disappointment.

It’s important to remember that not every family will experience all of these issues, and the severity can vary greatly. 

But if you recognize a few too many of these warning signs in your own family mobile, it might be time to acknowledge the dysfunction and start thinking about how to heal.

What is the Family of Origin Theory?

Imagine your family as a kind of emotional training ground. Everything you experience there – the good, the bad, and the awkward in-between – shapes how you approach the world and your relationships. 

This is the core idea behind the family of origin theory. Developed by therapists like Murray Bowen, this theory suggests that our early family experiences leave an invisible blueprint on our emotional landscape.

Here’s how it plays out:

  • Early Interactions Set the Stage: The way your family interacted, communicated, and dealt with conflict becomes a familiar pattern. Think of it like your family’s unique dance – some families do the tango, all passionate and fiery, while others prefer a more subdued waltz. Whatever the dance, it becomes a model for how you approach interactions with others.
  • Unconscious Patterns Take Root: These early experiences are often absorbed unconsciously. For example, if your family constantly avoided talking about difficult emotions, you might find yourself doing the same thing in your own relationships, even if you consciously want to be more open.
  • Generational Echoes: The theory also proposes that unresolved issues and unhealthy patterns can be passed down through generations. Maybe your grandparents had a super competitive dynamic, and now you find yourself constantly comparing yourself to your siblings (or your coworkers!).

It’s important to remember that the family of origin theory isn’t about blaming your parents for everything (although, let’s be honest, sometimes they deserve a little nudge). It’s more about understanding the subconscious influences that might be shaping your present.

Here’s the good news: 

By becoming aware of these patterns, you can start to rewrite the script. Just because your family waltzed around tough emotions doesn’t mean you have to do the same. Therapy can be a great tool for unpacking your family history and developing healthier coping mechanisms. 

You can choose to create new and different dances for your own relationships, filled with open communication, mutual respect, and maybe a little less emotional baggage.


The good news is that by understanding your family history and its potential impact, you can take control of your narrative. This can be a powerful tool for self-discovery and growth.

There’s no shame in seeking professional help from a therapist who specializes in family dynamics. They can help you unpack your past, develop healthier coping mechanisms, and build stronger, more fulfilling relationships moving forward. Remember, you are not alone in this journey. 

‘We all have a family history, and by understanding it, we can rewrite the ending.

Safe Haven Therapy & Coaching

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