by Dr. Ken Larsen
It was in Nashville. I was in my Practicum Supervisor certification group. Dr. Bob Wubbolding, director of Training for the Wm. Glasser Institute, came striding into our
room, looked around, and then stated, “Let’s get it over with. We ALL come from dysfunctional families!” We all laughed, sensing immediately the truth in that proclamation. We all carry unpleasant memories, even scars, from our growing up. Some are worse than others. Many of us just carry on, having adjusted to the ways we think about those memories. Some of us, however, have difficult memories that have become a part of our perceptions in how we see the world. These memories intrude on our present experiences and can even have an undesirable impact on the ways we relate to others and deal with the normal challenges of life.
Dr. Glasser has made the point clearly that while past events affect our present lives, all we can work with is what is happening now. We cannot go back to fix the past.
Does that mean we are stuck with the perceptions and memories of past scars that affect our present behavior?
I think these memories will always be with us. What we can do is shift our focus. This takes some effort based on insights we can gain from the wisdom of “Choice Theory” and “Reality Therapy”.
This shift involves movement. Movement toward what we want, and away from what we don’t want.
What we don’t want is to be trapped in maladaptive patterns from our past.
What we do want is the mental health and happiness that comes from making choices that help us get our needs met.
I think our primary need is to be connected to others in caring, life giving relationships. Some of us have discovered that making those connections requires a certain amount of skill. Skill in noticing and responding appropriately to social cues. Sensitivity to what is appropriate and what is not. If we recognize that we are lacking in some of those skills, we can learn.
Most of us know the story of Temple Grandin. I read one account of how she worked to learn a basic social skill. It seems that she did not have a good sense of comfortable social space. She would sometimes make people uncomfortable by moving too close. What she did to learn how to maintain a comfortable interpersonal space was to go to the local supermarket where they had doors that opened automatically. As you approached the door, the door would open when you got within a certain distance. She learned that the distance required to open the door was just the right distance to maintain an appropriate space between her and others in a social setting. So she practiced and practiced opening the door until she was able to reproduce that distance in her contacts with others.
The point here is that we can learn what we need to know to move toward what we want in life.
We know that we are influenced by our past, but we also know that there are no future facts. We are free to make choices that will take us toward the life that we want.
And we can look at our dysfunctional family with an understanding and forgiving point of view, realizing that all of us only do what seems to be the right thing to do at the time. We are free to shape our future with new choices, having learned the lessons of our past.