Family of Origin is a person’s family of origin refers to the family they grew up in. It consists of parents, siblings, and other relatives i.e., grandparents, cousins, step-brothers, step-sisters, etc., that a person lived with during an entire/part of childhood. 

Understanding family of origin dynamics is critical since our relationship with everyone that formed part of our family of origin has a profound influence on who we become. We are who we are because of our family of origin. 

We learned how to interact with people, deal with emotions, and form beliefs, and values from our parents and other members of our family of origin. Most importantly, who we are/sense of self comes from how we were brought up in our families of origin.

Family of origin related issues & the role of a family therapist 

An upbringing can’t be perfect. While some people may have felt loved and secure the majority of the time and developed a strong sense of self into adulthood, other people, especially those who didn’t feel loved and safe growing up, tend to have a family of origin related problems that are best identified by an experienced family therapist. 

Although some people have an idea of certain past events or issues that may be responsible for the problems they are experiencing in adulthood, seeking family therapy or family counseling from a competent family therapist will go a long way.

Common examples of upbringing/family of origin problems

You have/may have a family of origin related issues if you; 

  • Witnessed domestic abuse as a child or were subjected to domestic abuse
  • If your parents or siblings suffered from mental health issues
  • Were teased or bullied severely at home and/or in school
  • Lost a parent through suicide or death
  • Were brought up by an absentee parent/s
  • If a parent suffered from anger issues
  • Were adopted/raised by a stepfamily
  • If your household were strict in religious beliefs
  • Were brought up in a chaotic household
  • If you were abandoned emotionally by a parent or sibling
  • Substance abuse or addiction problems in the family
  • If your parents were divorced or single-parent families
  • Survived child sexual abuse or neglect

Family of origin problems varies in type and severity. There are many other examples. For instance, being brought up in a household where you were criticized all the time has a profound effect on how you view yourself today.

Importance of tackling issues related to the family of origin

You should revisit family of origin problems too; 

  • Discover and resolve past family issues
  • Find positive ways of dealing with negative generational patterns 
  • Find the best ways of relating with your family of origin now and in the future 
  • Create a healthier family and marriage in your own family 
  • Be aware of family patterns throughout life that may reflect the old dysfunctional issues

The conflict of revisiting family-of-origin problems

We may feel conflicted when revisiting upbringing issues since we don’t want to blame our loved ones. However, identifying and dealing with such issues isn’t about blaming our parents, siblings, or whoever else we grew up with. It’s more about recollecting past events honestly and solving present-day issues like anger, anxiety, depression, substance abuse, relationship issues, etc., linked to our upbringing. 

Moreover, a parent is responsible for meeting their child’s basic material needs and making them feel secure and loved. While parents aren’t perfect, some fall short of delivering basics. Such eventualities can be traced back to a parent’s own upbringing. 

Children whose parents had a family of origin problems may have counterproductive coping mechanisms. For instance, since they grew up without adequate love and safety, they may decide to be perfect to earn their parent’s love instead of coming to terms with the reality that their parents may be flawed or bad. Since the parents are the problem, being a perfect child isn’t the solution. Instead, it skews a child’s personality and brings forth problems in adult life. 

These problems must be addressed through family counseling sessions conducted by a seasoned family therapist. The role of family therapists is to tackle present-day issues that may be associated with the original family of origin problems like neglect, sexual abuse, emotional abuse, physical abuse, and more.

Family therapy as a solution to a family of origin problems

As mentioned above, revisiting upbringing-related issues can be conflicting. The process can also be scary since it focuses on our core beliefs and knowledge about life. Nevertheless, we must revisit our past to heal and move on as better partners, parents, siblings, uncles, aunties, and grandparents in the future. 

While some people can argue against opening “old wounds”, it’s worth noting that we subconsciously recreate old family dynamics. The same family-of-origin problems that affected us growing up tend to manifest themselves again, determining how we bring up our children, relate with spouses, handle adult friendships, and more. The importance of understanding family-of-origin patterns can’t, therefore, be overlooked.

Uncovering and dealing with upbringing issues will help you avoid repeating the same mistakes made by your parents and relatives when they were bringing you up. Ignoring family-of-origin problems is a counterproductive approach as such issues are bound to haunt us in the future.

Family therapy

Family therapy helps us identify family-of-origin problems and unlearn or relearn family values, communication styles, traditions, and ways of dealing with/expressing emotions. We can make the necessary adjustments to upbringing-related issues to forge the best future outcome. 

By focusing on the past momentarily, a family therapist can help you understand why you have certain beliefs, why you make certain choices, why to experience certain emotions, and generally why you do certain things. Once a family therapist helps you understand your past, they can now help you alter your thinking, and change your perspective and views about yourself and life in general. While family counseling doesn’t bring forth instant results, it helps you face and conquers your fears. It also sets you free to chase your goals and dreams with unmatched peace and clarity.

Family Systems

A family of origin has certain systems that affect members of that family. Everyone is part of the family system they grew up in, and the effects of such a system aren’t isolated. Other members of your family i.e. siblings, were also subjected to your family system and the things that took place within the system over time.

Family roles and homeostasis

Every family member also had specific roles in your system, and these roles helped to maintain balance in one way or another. This balance (commonly referred to as homeostasis) can be defined as a tendency to strive to preserve the organizing principles of a family’s existence.

For instance, families with addiction problems tend to have members who adapt to an addict. While an elder child can play the role of a parent, other children may assume roles like the “lost” child or “scapegoat” child. Homeostasis explains why specific members of a dysfunctional family change roles or assume certain roles. The detachment, disengagement, or decision to be more responsible is usually a response to the current family system. 

Homeostasis sheds light on present-day attractions and relationships. We tend to be subconsciously attracted to people we can recreate family order (or homeostasis). We also tend to date/fall in love with people who offer old family dynamics regardless of how painful or conflicting those old family dynamics were. 

People settle for familiar dynamics with hopes of working through existing issues. For many people, this happens in the subconscious, although there may be familiarity. It is a strange but very powerful attraction that is potentially dangerous since it comes with an unmatched desire to cope with a person even when things go horribly wrong. The subconscious mind believes it can work things out. 

Generally, persons with family-of-origin problems will choose mates or relationship partners that are similar to certain family members. For instance, if you had a distant father, you may tend to be attracted to men who are also distant to recreate a similar dynamic or role you played in your family of origin. However, there is a serious problem using this approach since your spouse isn’t your parent and may not understand some of our behaviors linked to the past.

Successful adult romantic relationships

For romantic relationships to enjoy long-term success, they must evolve and be between two self-aware, well-defined, and mature adults. Maturity is largely about leaving a family of origin and old roles. It is about being with a person through present-day experiences. However, a person must free themselves and be mature about the present and future. 

This requires a deep understanding of self and family of origin problems. It takes time, courage, and persistence to understand your past, emotions, a family of origin conflicts, and the way forward.


Most importantly, you need a professional (family therapist) to guide you through the process. Jousline Savra is a licensed marriage family therapist in the Roswell, GA area. She provides practical and thorough tools to help each individual work through their issues, which allows them revolutionary therapeutic techniques for closer relationships. Call Jousline today to start your journey for deeper relationships.