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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Episode 3 (Five best tools for opening wine and guest Natalie Hart)

Spark My Muse – Episode 3 (5 best tools for opening wine and guest Natalie Hart)


Spark my muse is The podcast for curious creatives types, wine newbies, and those willing to put up with my occasional silliness. Thank you so much for sharing your time with me.

This episode is brought to you by:
Life As Prayer:
Life As Prayer: Revived Spirituality Inspired by Ancient Piety

Today’s wine segment!

I open dozens of bottles of wine per week as a manager of a wine tasting room at Spring Gate Vineyard. We use a simple tool, I hadn’t seen before to make it quick and simple with very high levels of success.

BASICALLY only the cork should get screwed.  No broken corks, no puncture wounds–for you!

Cork screw is also called a wine key, or a waiter’s pry.

There are a few tools that are poor choices for opening bottles….

There are the best tools which may include some you may want to avoid.

These (affiliate) links will get them for you at a good price.

• Basic lever corkscrew – very inexpensive, small and portable, comes on an army knife. (There’s a better option below…keep reading.)

• Electronic one – large, slow, overly complex for my taste. It can be glitchy, run out of power…

• Winged or butterfly…It has arms that go up as you twist it down into the cork…Easily can cause broken corks when not done right. (Tip: hold the arm down tightly until you get it firmly pinned down to the cork and begin twisting straight down.) It’s slow, and has higher failures.

• The rabbit style. Large, more complicated than necessary. Table mounted options. If you have the room, like a full bar in your house…go for it.

• Air pressure bottle opener. It uses a needle CO 2 80 bottles…meh.

What’s the best tool?

The 2 lever waiter’s corkscrew!
It’s portable,fast, and low tech. The secret is the double hinge. It only takes about three rotations. (TIP: Go straight down and use the lever to pull the cork straight up. Don’t crank the cork to the side. First you use the top lever and then you switch to the bottom one.)

Here’s a video of the same tool I use at work and how to use it. Skip to minute 1:00.

Spark My Muse guest:
Writer – Natalie Hart

Natalie’s Webiste
• Her book: The Giant Slayer

We discussed:

• Biblical fiction genre

• Her favorite way to get unstack creatively

• Identity (David’s, and the rest of us.)

Thanks for listening / reading. Please subscribe, or leave comments. I’d love to hear if you like the show.


For just $1 you can help the show purchase better sound equipment for better quality in future podcasts!

Special perks and rewards are available too. Join with the Spark My Muse community at the Spark My Muse page at Patreon! Click the image for more info.


Moms, Don’t Wait for the Book Deal

In a conversation I had recently with some writing friends (friends that regularly write…and all of them mothers), I realized that they all were hoping to be discovered through blogging to land the book deal they wanted. It happened to a few people and they really hoped it would happen to them. They were really trying to make it work. It was frustrating for them. Some felt jealous, some bitter, some resolved to prove they could do it.

It’s really an out-of-date idea this blog to get a book deal thing. Maybe 7-10 years out-of-date, or more…though once in a while it works.

It’s like playing Powerball. It seems like you could win big, but you never do. It’s someone else.

There is a whole industry propping up this idea of landing a book deal too. Billions and billions of dollars are wrapped up in it. There are conferences, agents, tons of ebooks, paper books, articles, and whole websites to help you do blogging and writing better and to help you get published or build your platform that will interest and convince publishers. But the actual premise of all this is like the cassette tape. It worked once, and was considered normal, but now there are better options for your talents. Ones that feel more deeply meaningful too.

Discarded Transformers Cassette Tape At The Side Of The Road, Clarach Valley, 23-07-06

David Jones via Compfight

Over the next few months, I’m going to be going in depth about how you can actually make money writing.

It’s not by freelancing,

blogging and guest blogging,

selling website ads,

getting a book deal,

or self-publishing.

What could it possibly be then?

More on that soon!

It’s also about a entire shift in what success means.
The truth about the dream? The “prize at the bottom of the box” of all that hard work isn’t the big book deal. Many with book deals will tell you the true tales of woe dealing with editors and publishers expectations, exhausting obligations, and accountants who repeatedly want you to prove you are a legit option. Then, in the end, you are left to market the whole thing yourself anyway. This doesn’t apply if you’re famous or infamous though. (Plenty of people try to drum up controversy to get noticed and it works for a few people, but it’s not a winning idea and can turn you into a bit of a monster, it seems.)

Most authors don’t sell more than 1,000 books. Most. (My agent told me that.) When then do sell any, they get about a $1 or less per copy in royalties. Some dream!

That is a terrible return on all the hard work and the time invested. The other options are better ones. The prize you thought you wanted? It doesn’t exist. Not really. That’s the secret they won’t tell you. They can’t tell you that! The industry still needs you to believe that the prize is good enough and still available. The sooner you make a new path for yourself, the better off you are.

But, that doesn’t mean your dream of success should be over and your talents unused. Not at all.

It just takes adaptation and some cleverness. I’ve been consulting folks on how to make the shift, like I did. I’m going to open up the process for you too.

A few years ago, I saw the change was just ahead. Wicked. crazy. change. I did something no one would even think of doing. I had an ace in the hole, but I let my literary agent go. I don’t like to say “fired” because he did nothing to deserve it. I told him I needed to change direction and we amiably parted ways, and we mutually ended  our contract.

He’s a good agent with an incredible track record getting deals and has represented some best-selling books. He turns down most who approach him. He was really really surprised, obviously. I went on instinct. I decided to not stick with convention and the known outcomes in the “formula” to be a successful author. The machine of publishing is deteriorating leviathan. The better fit for me is picking my own path and utilizing technology. I’ll be sharing how in the next weeks and months.

I decided I wasn’t going to wait to get picked. I didn’t like the game. I decided to not be a part of a failing system that was starting to heavily rely on celebrities (all with ghostwriters btw) or gimmicks to keep their publishing houses running. I wanted OUT.

The move seemed asinine, at least on paper. (At that time three of my writing friends had tried to get this agent’s interest and got shot down, and I was letting him go? HUH? Since then loads of others have been rejected too. I had him for  the taking but I said “no thank you”.) Yet, it opened me up creatively to do my best work and find my own prize, not the phantom book deal carrot held out just out of reach by a whole industry propping up the slick myth.

It really was the day I went Pro. I’ll let you in on a few secrets I learned in the next few weeks and help you find a way to come into your own creatively as you let go of the false or shoddy promise of landing a “great book deal” or signing with great agent and making it big. That is so 90s.

Don’t get me wrong, authors sometimes get signed and blogging still helps get deals…rarely. But in the end of the whole process most authors are deeply unsatisfied or underwhelmed. Not just because they reap so little, but because they have so little control in the process, the machine of it. The good news is the gatekeepers don’t hold on the power as they once did, and technology has created new doors.

The book deal that seemed so amazing? I can buy her book for $2.99 at Ollie’s Bargain Outlet just 3-6 months later. (I do it all the time.) The system is busted, but the word isn’t getting out.

Stayed tuned for more. The gloves are coming off.

Shhhh…worst kept secrets

Shhh... tell everybody

What’s the best way to spread news in the Christian community?

That’s easy. Before you share news, just say it’s a prayer request.

(No one likes to feel left out. And for most people knowing and sharing news feels empowering. Cloaked with the term “prayer request” spreading news verges darn near to righteous.)

Even if it’s something horrible, you can say something like, “I probably shouldn’t say this, but, you know Peggy? She’s going through a lot right now. Her teen flipped out and hit her in the face yesterday. It gave her a bloody nose. It’s so sad. Really pray for her. They’re really struggling. Oh, and don’t tell anyone I told you, okay?”

What will happen is that everyone will know, but no one will admit to anything. It will like like the Spirit told them, and suddenly everyone will know everything, but, miraculously, nobody has betrayed any trust.

Peggy? She’ll get weird and awkward glances, and a few close friends will ninja hug her because they’re not sure what else to do, but want to do something overt to show they support her. Peggy will wonder who knows, and how it got out and about.  Smilers and huggers will relieve their guilt from spreading around her business behind her back.

(Yes. This was not a “how-to”…just a bit sarcastic.)

Does this ring true?

Share your input: If someone says, “I probably shouldn’t say this…” what are some good ways to respond?