When I used to teach environmental science I would ask my students to define living things. A lively discussion would ensue and eventually students would identify one of the most important characteristics, which is the ability to respond to stimulus. Examples of responding to stimulus would be a flower turning towards the sun or a deer running away from a lion.
Now, when I sit with my clients I talk about how as human beings we also respond to stimulus. However, the conversation is more nuanced because our sources of stimuli are varied and our responses are incredibly complex. Our responses are not only informed by biology but also by the family we grew up with. Our family of origin is our biological or adoptive family where we first learn to view ourselves and learn how to make sense of the world around us. Much of this is internalized and becomes part of unconscious ways of being.The therapy process can be a sacred and valuable space to go into these tender discussions so that greater awareness can emerge.
For instance, one of the things that I love doing with my clients is to look at the family relationships more closely. So in one of the first sessions, with the client’s permission, we begin to sketch out the family tree. And as we begin to do this, often stories will emerge about the grandmother from the father’s side who died of cancer, or of the the auntie on the mother’s side who could never hold down a job. Through the diagramming we are able to examine the patterns, the unspoken rules and the alliances within the extended and immediate family system. For instance, clients leave with an understanding that in their family only certain people could voice dissent. Or others might learn how they were taught to manage their feelings. Unearthing this information and bringing it to the light can be hugely valuable for clients in helping them to gain knowing as to why they might respond to life the way they do.
Excavating and examining past conditioning and experiences within the family context is one way to learn about yourself. Therapy is about finding ways to increase your life force so that when you are faced with stimuli, you can respond in a way that is heart-centered, mindful and life-giving. At Catalyst Counseling we can help you do just that!
Jaya Ramesh provides individual, couples, and family counseling. More information about her clinical focus can be found here, and more information about her support group for South Asian immigrant women can be found here.