ESP 23 The hidden “family rules” that have shaped you (and still impact your life)

familyfightDid this ever happen to you? You think the way your family (of origin) does something is normal, and then, suddenly, you find out it isn’t?

Usually, this happens when you form close relationships outside your family of origin. Fireworks can ensue!

How your family dealt with conflicts, problems, shame, secrets, and tragedies shaped you and learning relational and loyalty dynamics from the previous generations in your family can bring relational repair, health, and hope.


That’s what today’s show is about. I’m glad you can listen, today.


Today’s guest is graduate school professor and marriage and family therapist in private clinical practice, Janet Stauffer, Ph.D.



Dean of Students, Evangelical Seminary

Professor of Marriage and Family Therapy

In addition to her work at the seminary and her clinical practice, Janet is vice president of the Board of Directors at Philhaven Behavioral Healthcare facility. She has led retreats, presented at professional conferences, and published articles in a number of journals. She is a licensed marriage and family therapist and approved supervisor and clinical member of the American Association of Marriage and Family Therapists. She also holds membership in the Christian Association for Psychological Studies. Her research interests include genuine meeting through dialogical engagement, loyalty dynamics between and across the generations of the family, and the intersection of faith and therapy.





Each person is born with an inherent longing to connect.


Early childhood experiences shape who we are and how we relate to others.

Our ancestors deliver ways of being to us across generations:


What can be done if the early years weren’t filled with dysfunction and problems?


How relationship can alter the wiring and re-patterning of the brain.


Jim Coen, UVA – The Hand holding experiment.


In close relationships, we end up feeling–not only are you here with me–but somehow you are me. Somehow we are here together.


Before we can help others, we have to be open to ourselves and our own healing. Our wounds can remain as vulnerabilities and our greatest resource.


“I because who I am through my relationships with other people, so that more of me gets called forth as I respond to others in my world around me.”


The still face experiment:


“Foo-Poo” (FOO = Family of Origin) influences our current relationships.


The interconnectedness and “loyalty dynamics” between and across the generations and how during all our interactions we are holding something that has been passed down across generations and in the larger cultural dynamics.


Example from life (Janet, her husband and the Ford Fiesta). Naming the truth in our interactions and being curious about what we hold from generations before us.


Janet explored what anger was like for her mother and grandmother and discovered not just a family secret and the shame that was carried on, but also a a family norm relating to how pain is dealt with.


Family secrets and ways of interacting waiting like land mines that can sabotage our other relationships.


We can also end up carrying or holding visibly or invisibly things that our spouse (or other close relationships) hold as well.


There are options for growth and healing if we can be open, aware, curious and can find courage to turn and face [the other] and remember where our weakness are and admit them.


The power of naming what is happening for us emotionally.


“Honoring my personal truth, personal awareness, my being, and made a claim for myself has a profound impact in my own knowing.”


“Every one of us experiences terror at the thought of finding the courage to turn and face the other in a painful situation at some point in our life.”


A defend or fight mode should be superseded by the prevailing message “You and I are on the team team ultimately. We have a reason to connect and I long for you. But it’s been hard between and here’s something of how it’s been for me… and I want to know what it’s like for you.”


Yet, we cannot think what we say will always help because we cannot guarantee the other person’s response. So there is vulnerability in saying the truth.


Being calm, curious and compassionate even in the face of wounds and vulnerability.


Emotionally self-regulating and contending with emotional triggers.


(In marriage or close relationships) Learning self and other in a whole new way…in a kind of sacred space to grow through the most tender places that we hold.


Telling the other what would help in what feels like an unsafe place emotionally.


Learning to soothe one another.


On core lies we can believe about ourselves.


Honoring when emotional safety is just as important as physical safety.


What to do when it’s not safe to have important conversations.


Martin Buber-We live with an armor around us and bands around our heart and being closed off and unaware and unaddressed.


Asking questions of ourselves to create more awareness and realizing our thoughts and memories are not us.


We limit our imagination about the capacity each of us holds to respond the other, the world around us and ourself.


We can test our assumptions and plant seeds that bring new possibilities for ourself and others.


When we can’t yet name or isolate our feelings.


Giving permission and a soft demand to know what is going on with someone else and helping them find their voice.


The biblical tradition of the garden where God says “Where art thou?” a story about hiding. God’s longing for humankind.


King David in the psalms is modeling openness and receptivity…asking “What is in my heart?” “Who am I?” “What do I hold?”


Being open and still safe. Giving yourself warm, regard, and leaving the self-judgment out.

“Judgment limits the knowing.”


Being present to and growing in recognition of “here’s what I hold” or “here’s what freezes me” etc and asking “how can I be more free?” and then exploring new pathways and practices that go somewhere.


On the spiritual practices and things can people do to move forward.


These ways of understanding what it is to connect, grow and be human are universal and offer hope to those with varied religious tradition and no religious affiliation too.


The spiritual and the Other when it is not defined as “God”.


“God doesn’t limit God’s self to the church or the synagogue or the mosque and we can never fully describe God because God cannot be contained and is always more than what I can fathom or grasp”


Asking, “How do I understand the call before me and how do I invite others and find the place where they are experiencing call and longing and where is this work happening within them. What is being invited forth?”


How we can pass down the best of our generational dynamics and loyalties to our children.


On the invisible family rule of perfectionism and how it made Janet think she could be the perfect parent and how that idea was shattered.


How she approached her son after that point to understand what he was experiencing and being surprised by his reply.


We can never get it all right, but we can be willing to go to our child and ask them about their experience.


Inviting others to know themselves in whatever capacity to do that they can and hold what they say with care and honor.


Enacting moments and accumulating themes and transactions and happenings and asking “Is their a burden they carry or an injury of disregard or diminishment that was not theirs to carry?” which deserve address and caring and honor.


On having a commit to “I will be there for you, and I will be here for me, and I invite you to be here for me,” is a profound act that helps us for the long run.


Despite our efforts, outcomes are not guaranteed and each person has an opportunity to respond uniquely.

RESOURCES for further discovery:

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Hate labels? [When unexplainable becomes a blockade]

“Fear of the unexplainable has not only impoverished our inner lives, but also diminished relations between people.” -Rilke



We like categories. We like labels. We like things defined.

A common statement among plenty of people (born after the 1960s?) is to claim: “I don’t like labels”. The closer thing is to say instead that, “I don’t like being confined to a box I can’t alter when I want to.”

We all instinctively use and adore labels…(If we didn’t, bringing it up wouldn’t cross our minds.)

“Not liking labels” is of course a label. It’s a classification.

It’s a way to distinguish an individual. It’s a category we hope people understand. We like the differentiation, but that same differentiation can be it’s own prison, and soon. It is not only a prison, but a blockade from human interactions and healthy bonds.

But, this is because Without categories, we have fear. Our world is much harder to navigate and make sense of without them. Without labels we venture headlong into the “unexplainable” again and again. This production of fear has a halting power.

I don’t know the remedy for it. There may be none. It may help, though, to just admit that we are often afraid. The funny thing is the being afraid draws us closer to each other…when it is not busy destroying us.

How New Advancements in Neurology are Changing our Minds

Annotated Sagittal ATECO MR Venogram

Reigh LeBlanc via Compfight

New 3D brain scan technology has changed even recently-held theories about how the brain works.

On the positive side, many brain injuries, learning disabilities, paralysis from strokes, mental disorders and addictions can now be treated with targeted exercises that cause brain re-mapping. The subsequent brain scans evidence the improvement.

Also proven: Things like prayer and meditation are verifiably shown to improve not only health and well-being but to alter brain mapping not just down to the cellular level but to the level of DNA itself.

The area of study is termed neuroplasticity.

Even into very old age, the brain now shows us its ability to continually adapt to the environment, and improve depending on how it’s utilized. Certain thoughts alter us. The proof is empirical.

On the negative side certain things the brain engages in make future change very difficult because chemical changes from events can permanently alter the brain’s structure. Nevertheless, the idea that the brain works like a computer or that it “hardens” like wet cement at around age 6 have been debunked.

Of course most of us already knew at some level. In spiritual formation we study this historically as well. The anecdotal evidence has always been there.

Proverbs 23:7a “For as a man thinketh in his heart [mind+will], so he is.”

In his book, Dr Norman Doidge gives us many case studies that appear simply miraculous at first blush. It’s worth the read.

• An eye surgeon paralyzed by a catastrophic stroke is give a rehabilitative treatment that allowed him to be a successful surgeon again.

• People born with congenital blindness are able to re-map their brains and perceive vision through through–of all things–their tongues!

• Wounded soldiers with phantom limb pain find relief for the first time.

(and much more)

Re-mapping is not science fiction nor is it fluffy positive thinking. Re-mapping just requires effort and specific therapy.

So if you could re-map your brain what would you like to change?
Don’t give up.

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6 Notes on Creativity: A Dispatch from Sparky Pronto

I’m writing as “Sparky Pronto” (my alter ego) who has the wisdom of the Muses to spark your creative muse and give you encouragement.

A few thoughts…

• Ignore insinuations that creating isn’t part of your reason for being here.

• When you make good art consistently, eventually you will be rewarded.

• Only a few people will “get you” and what you’re doing, if any do at all. That is no reason to stop creating.

• If you feel alive when you create, it’s crazy to stop or let it lag. Don’t.

• Creativity is like water. Jumping into a creative flow will be messy. Know that going in.


Standing Stones-A meaningful spiritual practice


standing stone monument-Joshua 4:9
standing stone monument-Joshua 4:9
Standing stones in a jar as a spiritual practice
Standing stones in a jar as a spiritual practice






When I first spoke about remembrance stones, or Ebenezer stones, a visitor friend of mine wrote this:

I also have small “alters” of stones in my house…up in jars. They are written on with a sharpie pen. I write one or two words down when I have a breakthrough, or a praise. When people come to visit, they ask about the stones and I can tell them that “good things happen here”. I take that from the Bible. Whenever there was a victory, as you probably already know, they use to build an alter…so that when people came by, they would see, know and remember.

This visitor’s practice of erecting contemporary “standing stones” helps her remember God’s goodness, mighty works, and faithfulness in her life. It can help her tell her story. It’s wonderful to have a visual reminder, also, because we can too quickly forget God’s work when we hit troubling times, or get too busy.

The practice of using stones as a memory device goes WAY back. For a brief devotional or your own research, look up the Scriptures of Joshua 4:9, and I Samuel 7:12.

Consider trying this practice for yourself. The materials are easy to find, and when you go through your jar and reflect on what’s inside as you are alone with God, or with someone else, you’ll be reminded of God’s faithfulness, and goodness.