Families: Heart-Smiling and Family Life

The influence of our Family of Origin

The family in which we are born and its dynamics influence our believes and attitudes for life. This is also where we are exposed to values that we may embrace or reject. Families also have secrets, therefore shame issues. Those who do not comply with family values and behaviors are considered eccentrics or renegades. However, families are not the monolithic bloc that they would like others to perceive. Families are a complex amalgam of different personalities, often antagonists. Conflicts arise from those oppositions which gives rise to the various defense mechanisms that children develop in order to survive.

Most of the time, children take side when parents engage in a conflict. Sometimes children trying to rescue and protect an abused parent get caught in the middle and get hurt. Moreover, not all children take the same side, which adds to family tensions and carry on into adulthood.

Childhood is when we learn our family roles: the hero, the scapegoat, the silent child... roles described at length in the co-dependency literature. Those roles also provide scripts that are useful to get our needs met, need for safety, for approval, for recognition... etc. We learn those roles and scripts so well that they become second nature and when we take them into adulthood, we forget why we learned them and do not even consider updating them if no longer appropriate. .

Blessings and Delusions that families bring forth

Ideally, a family should be a temple of love, peace and joy where each members is nurtured to grow and safely express their individuality and unique talents. Unfortunately, family dynamics are founded on individual unmet needs rather than love and compassion. Consequently, most couples form to fulfill needs without being aware of it.

The underlying (often unconscious) expectation is for the spouse and even the children to fill in the emotional chasm created by childhood family dysfunction: "pay attention to me... give me reassurance... be proud of me... don't abandon me... make it safe for me..." When couples form in early adulthood, it is most often to satisfy unmet needs. We expect to be reassured, recognized, admired and loved unconditionally. It is the dream of the soul-mate that will make us whole, complete and happy. Those unrealistic expectations have bitterly disappointed many, leading to separations and painful divorces.

Families, a place to learn to love

In a loving family, children learn to love by being loved and cared for. We learn to love by experiencing love first hand. In a dysfunctional family, it's not easy to get the role modeling needed. But it's never too late to learn to love. And families can provide a good practice ground for that purpose. Family members are best positioned to show us areas of our psyche that needs to be loved so we can more efficiently love ourselves and others. Learning to love ourselves is primordial, because we need to love and accept ourselves before we can love another.

Families are where we experience our most intense emotions, the greatest joys but also the greatest pains, like the shame-based pain of rejection and betrayal. Those who know us intimately have the uncanny ability to push our buttons and act as our mirror, mirroring us our "ugly" sides. When we feel the irritation of our buttons being pushed, we can either react and lash out at the person pushing the button, or we can see this as an opportunity to address a deeply rooted aspect of our psyche.

Awareness is key in order to transform an emotional reaction into an opportunity to heal ourselves. We need to be aware that whatever the trigger, the emotions experienced are OUR emotions; we have produced them with our neuro-chemicals, nobody else did that. The trigger may be outside of us, but what we feel is our making. We need to own our emotional reactions, because owning them also means that we can manage them.

Managing emotions is part of developing emotional intelligence. Emotional intelligence is the skill that puts us in charge of our mindscape, so that we don't have the horrible impression of being out of control and a sense of impending doom. Developing emotional intelligence requires patience, perseverance and kindness for ourselves. Owning our emotions allows us to address our fears and to let go of blame and victimization as a way of dealing with life. Blame and victimization are an unskilled immature way of dealing with emotional pain; they are not effective at restoring peace of mind and joie de vivre.

We teach others how to treat us

How can we place any demand on others to love and accept us when we can't do it for ourselves? What we ask of others, we must be willing to give ourselves, whether it's respect, attention, loving care, etc. If I respect myself, others will read that and know that I am a respectable person and therefore will have a tendency to respect me. If on the other hand I don't respect myself, people will see that and will treat me accordingly.

The funny thing is that when we fulfill our own needs for respect, recognition, support.... we do not need it from others, the need is being met. Family relationships then take on a new role, not one of fulfilling unmet needs but one of sharing loving moments. And this when family life becomes enriching and gratifying.

Families, a place for hearts to bloom

Families are a sacred place that fosters growth and development in a loving environment. Intimacy is an essential ingredient for that process. Intimacy requires the courage to show our bright and dark sides, our strengths and vulnerabilities. Intimacy demands that we drop our masks and let go of our programmed defense mechanisms so that we can be seen as we are, imperfect and fragile. Intimacy is the key factor that promotes trust and willingness to reach out, without which family life is an emotional desert.

If we want hearts to bloom in our family, we need develop the attitude of a loving gardener, to be humble, patient and open-hearted. Family relationships are the yoga of the west. They can been seen as a daily practice to develop presence, other-centeredness, tenderness and loving-kindness.

Heart-Smiling is the perfect tool to practice moments of loving-kindness throughout the day. Start by sending yourself smiles of loving-kindness, then broadcast them to your loved ones.

Put your Heart at the center of your family and feel the Loving Energy.