In 1985 I went behind the then-existent Iron Curtain to meet with persecuted spiritual and social leaders, and for a brief teaching stint.
As we journeyed through Poland, Romania, Hungary, and (what was then) Czechoslovakia, in our Volkswagen Westfalia Vanagon, my two traveling companions and I soon discovered a valuable piece of information.
Maps made by the Soviet Union were all but worthless.
We traveled streets that didn’t even show on the maps… and could find no physical evidence of some roads that did. Distance information was often useless.
A bad map may beat nothing… but not by much.
Just as a map can plot geographic territories, it can also plot the territories of a family.
A map shows the relative positions of the parts of a territory – and the relations of the parts to not only each other, but to the whole as well.
Where there is conflict and tension in families, there is almost always a bad map involved. Most commonly, it is an old map that plots the family of origin dynamics.
Usually, this map is on full display in families experiencing holiday tensions.
Old maps show old realities and old perceptions. They may not even have accurately described the terrain then… they certainly do not now.
But that doesn’t prevent families from continuing to use them.
In fact, much holiday frustration comes when someone metaphorically rolls out the old map and then proceeds to try to force the terrain to fit the map, rather than creating a new map to fit the current terrain.
It’s like the warning to not put new wine in old wineskins. It doesn’t work.
The childhood family clown of 20 years ago is expected to don his metaphorical greasepaint and get into role.
The black sheep has a 15-year-old story told again and she feels the same rage and humiliation now as she did back then.
And now we’re off and running!
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Old maps can be hard to break. I’ve heard any number of clients testify to this.
“I even went in aware of our old habits and patterns, as you and I discussed. And still, before I knew it, I was playing out the old scripts, just like we talked about in session.”
One client said this to me in her first session after she and her family had gone home for Thanksgiving.
Something primitive and automatic takes over. It’s can be like some kind of family thralldom.
Everyone plays their role. It’s not just the parents… it’s not just the kids. It’s a family dance.
What to do?
First thing is to inform yourself with the information we’ve talked about here. Understand the concept of family maps in general, and your family map in particular.
See if you can identify the relative positions of the parts of your family territory – and the relations of the parts to not only each other, but to the whole.
Take charge of your part of the map. Rewrite your section so that it more adequately describes the terrain as it is now.
Remember, you are only responsible for your part of the map – and enjoy the fact that with that responsibility comes the power to do something about it.