Written by therapist Ruth Nathaniel
One of the most formative components of our lives is the family we are born into, also known as the family of origin. While we could spend considerable time discussing the impact of the family of origin (as we tend to do in therapy), I’d like us to shift our attention to another family that is often left unprocessed- the Chosen Family.
Philosopher Patricia Churchland said, “Being engaged in some way for the good of the community, whatever that community, is a factor in a meaningful life. We long to belong, and belonging and caring anchors our sense of place in the universe.”
What is the Chosen Family?
We do not get to choose the family we are born and/or raised in, but as we grow into adulthood, we tend to make connections with people outside our family of origin, and these connections blossom into our Chosen Family. The Chosen Family is simply the community of people you choose to intimately surround yourself with. They can be any combination of people, including but not limited to, close friends and coworkers, mentors, neighbors, and teammates. This group of people very well may be what Churchland is alluding to in the aforementioned quote. The Chosen Family is typically one’s response to the Family of Origin, and are often the source of much healing, support, comfort and growth.
What does the Chosen Family Represent?
The Chosen Family represents our ability to pursue healthy relationships, and connect with people who feed our souls, no matter what we experience in our Family of Origin. It is the community in which we choose to reveal our deepest desires, communicate our vulnerabilities, and live into the freedom of secure friendship. But often, we do not reflect on the significance of these relationships, nor the impact they have on our day-to-day lives as well as our future goals. Here are some prompts to help you explore this incredible part of your life.
Who is in your Chosen Family?
Take a moment to consider who is in your Chosen Family. Of the people who just came to mind, do you look to any of them to fulfill certain roles i.e. maternal or paternal figures? How do they embody this role well? Think about how you came to know them, and if there was a particular experience that brought you closer to them. Do you see an alignment of values between yourselves? What about identifiable differences in values and personality?
When we think of our Family of Origin and where we experience them, there may be distinctive locations that come to mind such as your childhood home, a familiar holiday spot, or religious gathering space (temple, gurdwara, church, etc.). Noting the space we occupy with our Chosen Family might be a little less well-defined. Think about where you connect and care for your Chosen Family. It may be in less obvious places like the local library, soccer field, coffee shop, someone’s living room, the community center, or even a virtual space like Facetime or Whatsapp, and so forth. Take a second to ground yourself when you enter a space with your Chosen Family; notice how you feel and which emotions are coming to the surface. Are you peaceful, trusting, amazed? What about other tender emotions, such as feeling distant, bitter, disappointed, or rejected?
We just highlighted some emotions you may feel comfortable bringing to the space you share with your Chosen Family, but now what? Whether you’ve consciously noted it or not, we all have communication styles and patterns that dictate how well we can get our points across, make others feel heard and valued, and either direct us towards resolution, or unraveling. What do you notice about your communication style when you talk to a member of your Chosen Family? Do you find yourself shutting down, opening up, shying away from sharing hard truths? Is this pattern of communication similar at all to what is practiced in your Family of Origin, perhaps? Are there common elements in these relationships that can cause tension for you? What are the differences in the communication you practice with your Chosen Family members, versus the Family of Origin? How has that led to greater intimacy and openness? Do you see patterns that you’d like to change?
Connection between humans is not to be taken lightly or for granted. We thrive when we are in safe, secure relationships, and feel comfortable enough to express ourselves fully, including our quirks. This type of connection flourishes in individualistic communities, where differences are meant to be celebrated. Humans also connect through shared culture, since culture is our first manual on how to be human when we enter the world. Whether we like it or not, culture comes with both unspoken and spoken rules, increasing or decreasing one’s sense of belonging when subscribing to the rules. Connection through shared rules flourishes in collectivistic communities.
Examine the culture of your Chosen Family. What are the rules? Are there different rules at play with each relationship? Is there an overarching culture with the group as a whole? How do these rules overlap or differ with the rules of your Family of Origin?
There is so much to say about the Chosen Family, and this blog is just a primer to help you think about these relationships in a more mindful manner. Our relationships with others are a double edged sword, often being the source of our greatest heartbreaks and healing.
If you want to process your relationships, the communication styles within them, or even examine how you might experience greater fulfillment in the community you are a part of, I’d be honored to support you. Give us a call about setting up an appointment today!