EFT can be very effective in resolving family of origin issues, which can affect our adult relationships profoundly. Negative family patterns powerfully influence how we, as adults, interact at work, with spouses and friends, and with our children, as well as how successful and happy we are in our lives. I’ve found that using EFT together with family role concepts with clients resolves these issues much more quickly than other forms of psychotherapy that I’ve used in the past. What I’d like to do here is, first, to share some family dynamics concepts and then to show examples of how to incorporate them into EFT work.
There are certain roles that seem to be inherent in families—or any group—and they crop up powerfully especially when there’s stress or anxiety. These roles are passed down from generation to generation, unconsciously being assigned to family members. Some roles are easier to inhabit than others. It would be great if parents were to choose the hard ones and leave the easier ones for their children. But this isn’t what tends to happen—at least in part because the process of choosing and assigning roles is unconscious.
Here are the roles, from easiest to hardest:
Whenever a difficult problem arises or there’s emotional difficulty in the family, these are the people in the family who go off to read the paper, watch TV, go out to play golf, go out to play, or go shopping. They feel, “it’s not my problem, so I don’t have to deal with it.” This is the best role for the family to give children, especially young children, because it really shouldn’t be their job to solve problems or help people with their interpersonal family issues. They are both too young developmentally and they don’t have the power or information to do the job effectively.
These people are assigned to the job of making sure everyone is happy, to take care of everyone emotionally, and to solve the problems. Over time, both the rest of the family and these people themselves feel that they are the only ones in the family who can deal with problems. Unfortunately, this role is often assigned to one of the children. For example, when parents aren’t getting along, one parent might draw in one of the children to be her/his confidante. Or, if the family is not too good at working out finances, the child deemed to be the “smart one,” might be drawn in to give financial advice to the parents. Also, if one of the parents goes into rages and takes it out on one of the children, another one of the children will feel responsible to take that child away from the parents’ sight and comfort that child.
These people tend to feel emotionally and often in their bodies, whenever there’s tension or anxiety in the family. If the parents work to resolve tension between themselves or help whoever is having a problem, this role doesn’t have to show up in the family. But that’s often not what happens. When a problem or an issue between two people is not being solved directly and effectively, people in the identified patient role—again often one of the children—feels the emotions of the others and usually literally gets sick. They may have nightmares, become hopeless, depressed or chronically anxious, or develop chronic health problems. They have a harder and harder time being effective in the world. They are generally seen as weak or ineffectual or not able to handle things. These people don’t have the power, age, knowledge or life-experience in the family to be able to solve a family problem or conflict. They feel all the anxiety but can’t do anything about it.
This is the role that carries the most anxiety and is found in families going through a lot of stress that they can’t handle effectively. These people are seen by their family and by themselves as being the problem. Instead of the parents resolving a family stress or anxiety, this person is somehow drawn to act out and to have the family focus on whatever’s going on with her/him. The family is increasingly frustrated with this individual and he/she hates her/himself more and more. The person in this role feels increasingly isolated from his/her family, from other people, and from her/himself. Sometimes, he/she is basically kicked out, or kicks him/herself out. This is so unfortunate, for the person and for the family. If the family could resolve its problems or conflicts, it would relieve this person immensely and help him/her become integrated into the family again.
Thus far, I’ve just described the problematic parts of these roles. Each one has positives and strengths, too—among others, peace and happiness for distancers, problem-solving ability and self-confidence for caretakers, sensitivity and compassion for identified patients, and willingness to go against convention for “outcasts.”
Distancers, if they participate in any kind of therapeutic setting at all, will be found mostly in personal growth settings. Caretakers and identified patients are the ones who most often come to our practices for help. It’s rare to see outcasts as clients.
How EFT helped three people with family of origin issues
In this article, I’ll focus on issues that come up for people in the Outcast, Identified Patient and Caretaker roles using EFT. I have changed names and biographical details to preserve clients’ anonymity.
Because family roles are “assigned” unconsciously very early in people’s lives, they really become our identity in many ways, what Gary has called “writing on our walls.” For this reason, we can’t see ourselves being any other way, and we are, in some ways, afraid to let them go and move into other, freer, ways of living and relating.
Contact Zoe Zimmermann, MA, LPC, Certified EFT Practitioner
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