When it comes to understanding the deeper meaning of our lives, one of the oldest disciplines of study is psychoanalysis. Founded by Sigmund Freud, psychoanalysis is a form of therapy that's based on the unconscious mind and requires a patient to be honest and reveal their thoughts, feelings and desires to the therapist so they can be explored, processed and understood. While Freudian psychology has been critiqued and reframed in more recent years, the fundamentals of his work remain valid and true. One particular idea from Freud is that when it comes to relationships with family, we are often driven by our subconscious, even though much of the time we aren't aware of it.
Freud speculated that we marry someone who is similar in some way to our parent. That so called "repetition compulsion" drives us to unconsciously re-enact stories from the past and find our "happily ever after" through repeating the patterns we observed in our parents. It is interesting to note that unconsciously we are looking for a different outcome, however, even though on a conscious level we are denying it and seeking out what feels familiar. We hope that somehow by reliving these relationships we can get the resolution that eluded us growing up.
However, this is not the only idea in psychoanalysis, there is a larger concept at play here that explains our process of maturing and the importance of finding our individual stories and creating the life we want to live. This view was pioneered by psychoanalyst and author Erik Erikson. Erikson asserted that as we grow and evolve through life, it's essential that we strive to create our own identity and sense of worth. He further suggested that if we don't consciously work towards this, we will be prone to living out the patterns of our childhood in a perpetual state of arrested development.
The cornerstone of Erikson's psychological theory is the idea of 'psychosocial development', which states that we develop psychologically as we interact with and relate to the environment around us. As we progress emotionally and spiritually, the decisions and relationships we make along the way, become stepping stones that help us to understand our past, collaborate with others and ultimately discover who we are. This forms the core of meaningful connection and joy that life can offer.
So, while Freud proposed that we are predisposed to begin our lives with similar stories to our parents, Erikson added to it an important piece of the puzzle. He said that in order to create something new, rather than get stuck in the same old narrative, we must take ownership of our story and be accountable for our decisions. Once we do that, we can use the challenges of our past as fuel to activate transformation by making conscious choices and taking responsibility for our lives. In essence, Erikson's perspective gives us the courage to re-script family narratives and embrace the beauty of life.
When it comes to parenting, this is an especially important message to share with our children. By equipping them with the skills to identify family patterns and engage in reflective thought and dialogue, we can ensure that generational cycles of dysfunction are broken and replaced with new stories of growth and transformation. Psychoanalytical therapy is one way of accomplishing this goal, but there are also many other activities and exercises that can help your children to develop a strong sense of personal identity and purpose.
It's true that the lessons of our past can profoundly shape our future, but there is no need for those repeated stories to limit us. With the right tools, guidance and support we can approach our relationships with family, friends and ourselves with creativity, courage and self-compassion, and rewrite the narratives of our lives.