How family shapes identity


Sometimes family is the people we were born with and sometimes it’s the people we choose to spend our lives with. The people we surround ourselves with, be they blood relatives, or friends of convenience and chance, or people we choose to partner with (romantically or otherwise) - they mean a great deal to us and have tremendous impact on our lives. From our early years of seeing whatever parental figures we had behaving in certain ways, to growing adolescence and striving for independence and autonomy, to maybe being parental figures ourselves, we have countless numbers of experiences that shape who we are. We know from our own experience that people tend to either become their parents or their polar opposite as a reaction against their upbringing. 

Why family is important

For better or worse, family is family - and sometimes family is the people we were born with and sometimes it’s the people we choose to spend our lives with. We humans are social creatures, from our collective history and personal experiences right down to our DNA. We used to live in small tribes that we basically extended family systems. The good and survival of the tribe was important, it didn’t matter if you liked your family/tribe or not, you needed them to survive. But as time marched onward we began to find ways to become more self-sufficient, relying less and less on the societal structures of family and tribe. We began to become independent individuals who can do things all on our own, thank you very much. But as we became more separated we began to draw closer together again because maybe we realized that something was missing. Only this time, we drew closer together through the use of technology. All the FaceTweet’o’grams began and we found a new way to become family with so many more people than we could have ever thought of before. 

This coming full-circle shows us just how integral to our experience as humans a family is. Maybe your family is blood relatives, maybe it’s your adoptive parents/siblings, maybe it’s the friends you associate with. Whatever family means to you, it does mean something. Something real and deep and meaningful that we long for.

Can family be friends?

Sometimes family is the people we were born with and sometimes it’s the people we choose to spend our lives with. This has become something of a refrain in my post here. We have people in our lives that matter to us, and these people are our family - even if they share no blood relation to us at all. Ideally, we would all be friends right? We could live the Mr. Roger’s dream of all being neighbors to one another, the kind of neighbor that is like family should be - people who help and care and are kind. But this isn’t quite as easy as all that. Real family takes work. Sometimes you have to just listen to Uncle tell that story for the hundredth time, and then laugh at all the right moments. You have to go pick up Grandma from the airport and let her tell you about all the times she was just sure the plane was going down. Maybe you have to put up with a younger sibling who annoys you constantly in their effort to be just like you - maybe your the younger sibling and need to try not to be so annoying :) Maybe your friend group has that one person who takes on the mothering role and always wants to make sure you call when you get back home safely. Or you have that group “awkward cousin” who kind of just joined your group and no one really remembers when or how, but they are just part of things now.

Family and friends can be like that. The one group can cross into the other and back again. The people we hold closest to us can go from laughing pal to admonishing parent to joking sibling and back again. This is the beauty and joy that friends/family can be. In truth, the deeper you connect with people, the more these two concepts can merge into one;…framily? Friemends? Fandley? anyways, you get it.

When family lets you down

Family isn’t all sunshine and rainbows. Sometimes the people we depend on the most can hurt us the deepest. Maybe you have never known what a loving family looks like, your only picture of “family” is one filled with pain and sadness. If that’s your experience then you already know the damage that can be done. Maybe you’re on the other end of things, you have only experienced good times and happy memories with family. For that, be grateful - not everyone has enjoyed that. But you probably fall somewhere in between. You have good and bad memories, happy and sad. You know the way that family can hurt and cut deeply. But family (biological or otherwise) can also be a bright spot of joy in life. Family hurt is unlike so many other types of hurt in that it comes from the people who are supposed to be the closest to us, the ones who care for us the most. Family wounds can last a lifetime, but they don’t have to hurt forever. Maybe things will never go back to the way that they were, but there is a way forward. Perhaps this will mean that your family is radically reformed, or reoriented, or even that you shift from one family to another. But there is a way forward, and it’s one that doesn’t need to stay in a place of hurt. 

If you are having trouble in your family, blood relation or otherwise and you want help finding a way forward please reach out; 512-931-4801