Dive into the depths of your past and discover the keys to unlocking your present as we explore the powerful concepts of “family of origin” and “origin wounds.” From the tender moments to the subtle missteps, our early family dynamics shape the very core of who we are. It’s not just about trauma or neglect; even the most loving caregivers leave imprints that ripple through our lives.

Join us as New York Times bestselling author Vienna Pharaon guides us through the intricate web of relationships, self-worth, and worldview that we inherit from our upbringing. Together, we’ll uncover the patterns that stealthily influence our present, and learn how confronting our origin wounds can lead to profound mental health and personal growth. Don’t miss this eye-opening journey into the heart of your past, where understanding paves the way to healing and self-discovery.

“I’ll hear people kind of with the narrative of, well, they did the best that they could, or they were so much better than their parents were to them. Right? There’s many reasons why looking back at our family of origins can feel overwhelming and complicated. Sometimes we feel guilty. Sometimes we feel ungrateful. We’re not on a hunt to find something. Right? It’s not about trying to throw our parents or the adults under the bus. We’re not trying to hate anybody. We’re here. We’re looking to acknowledge how we experienced those years and how we’ve internalized those things.” ~Vienna Pharaon, Author of “The Origins of You”

Vienna Pharaon

Vienna Pharaon is a licensed Marriage and Family therapist and one of New York City’s most sought-after relationship therapists. She has practiced therapy for more than fifteen years and is the founder of the group practice Mindful Marriage and Family Therapy.

She received her master of science in marriage and family therapy from Northwestern University and trained extensively at The Family Institute, Bette D. Harris Family & Child Clinic. Pharaon has been featured in The Economist, Vice, and Motherly, and has led workshops for Peloton and Netflix, among others.

Vienna is the author of national bestseller The Origins of You, and the creator of @mindfulMFT on Instagram where she’s helping over 600K people around the world heal their wounds.

About “This Keeps Happening”

Every week, I speak with anonymous strangers about the challenges they’re facing in their lives and relationships. Listen as real people unpack emotional wounds with me. Together, we’ll attempt to break unhealthy patterns and find clarity and a way forward.

Gabe Howard

Our host, Gabe Howard, is an award-winning writer and speaker who lives with bipolar disorder. He is the author of the popular book, “Mental Illness is an Asshole and other Observations,” available from Amazon; signed copies are also available directly from the author.

Gabe makes his home in the suburbs of Columbus, Ohio. He lives with his supportive wife, Kendall, and a Miniature Schnauzer dog that he never wanted, but now can’t imagine life without.

To book Gabe for your next event or learn more about him, please visit gabehoward.com.

Producer’s Note: Please be mindful that this transcript has been computer generated and therefore may contain inaccuracies and grammar errors. Thank you.

Announcer: You’re listening to Inside Mental Health: A Psych Central Podcast where experts share experiences and the latest thinking on mental health and psychology. Here’s your host, Gabe Howard.

Gabe Howard: Welcome, listeners. I’m your host, Gabe Howard. Calling in today, we have Vienna Pharaon. Vienna is a licensed marriage and family therapist and the author of the best-selling book, “The Origins of You.” She’s also the host of the popular podcast This Keeps Happening. Vienna, welcome to the show.

Vienna Pharaon: Hi, Gabe. Thank you so much for having me. I’m so excited to be here and be in conversation with you.

Gabe Howard: I have. I have many, many questions because today we’re going to be discussing how to understand and overcome wounds from our family of origin, which is described as the foundation of how we relate to others, ourselves, and the world around us. Now, I want to confess that I’m not familiar with the phrase family of origin. Can you help me understand?

Vienna Pharaon: Absolutely. And, you know, in some ways it almost feels like this fancy word for your family where it’s like, what is the family of origin? Well, it’s the family system in which you grew up. And for some of us, that might be one family system, one family of origin. For some of us it might be multiple. So, for example, my parents went through a nine-year divorce process. And so I would say that I have two family systems, right? I at one point there was one. And then at another point it turned into two. Right? I had to get comfortable and used to being part of a family of origin with my mom. And then I got comfortable and used to being in a family of origin with my dad. Right? I would go back and forth between these two homes, which is an experience that I think, you know, obviously a lot of people have had that experience, and it’s important for us to call it that, that the origin family, the original family, that family system, and sometimes that’s comprised of, you know, a mom and a dad. Um, sometimes that’s comprised of stepparents, sometimes that has siblings in it, sometimes that has grandparents involved, sometimes that has aunts and uncles or cousins. Right. It’s like the main people who were a part of that system when you were growing up.

Gabe Howard: And why does this matter? Why is it so important to understand this into our adult lives?

Vienna Pharaon: Well, unsurprisingly our families where how we grow up. It’s our first template. It’s our first education on most things. Plenty of things, uh, contribute to it along the way to, of course, teachers and coaches and religion, if you were brought up with that. Um, but our family systems are our first education for love and intimacy and attachment and belonging and prioritization and communication and conflict and boundaries, like we are constantly being taught in that space, who we are and who other people are, what we can expect of relationships, what we can’t expect of relationships, um, what we’re meant to believe about the world. Like that’s the first place that we get all of that. It’s the template, right? It’s our framework. And some of the stuff that they give us is incredible. And it’s beautiful. It’s, it’s so profound and meaningful and so important for our lives. And some of the other stuff that we’re given is not so great, right? Sometimes it’s hurtful, sometimes it’s harmful. And why do we go there? Well, we don’t go back because we think it’s fun and we want to hang out in decades, long ago.

Vienna Pharaon: We go back because irresolution from the past comes with us. Period. Irresolution from the past comes with us. And I like to say patterns are pain’s way of grabbing for our attention. So if you have an unwanted pattern in your adult life right now, you know the thing that just like keeps showing up, keeps, keeps presenting itself in different formats, right? To me, that’s pain’s way of trying to communicate with us by trying to say like, hey, please turn back around and acknowledge something. There’s something that’s been overlooked. There’s something that has not been witnessed enough, there’s something that has not been felt and acknowledged and honored and grieved properly. Right. We cannot just get on with our lives without resolving things from the past that are significant to us, right? Not determined by anyone else other than us. That this is something that was significant, that was internalized in a in an important way that needs our attention. To look at it and honor it and be with it and see it and connect to it so that it can loosen its grip on us. And so why do we do this work? Well, to see where the ruptures were that make our present-day behavior and relationships and choices make more sense.

Gabe Howard: As I’m trying to understand this, I think that when I personally hear the word wound, I’m thinking that it really has to be some big dramatic trauma that has happened to someone. Like something really serious, for example, violence, abuse or sexual assault, and that it has to be intentional. It really has to come from a place of malice. Am I understanding this correctly? Is that the kind of thing that has to happen to a person to cause an origin wound?

Vienna Pharaon: No. And in fact, I think that if that’s the standard that a person is looking for, so many people will actually miss what it is that needs to be acknowledged. Of course, there’s a spectrum and I use the language wounds very specifically. There’s you know, we hear the word trauma often now. And I think sometimes when people hear the word trauma, they check out. I didn’t have trauma. This isn’t about me. I I’m not even a part of this conversation. Wounds, on the other hand, feels a little bit more inviting, right? Like as a kid when we scraped our knee and it started to bleed and we feel like, clean it out and put some ointment on it and put a Band-Aid over it and let it get some air and then like, okay, we all had that, and then we bump up against it. Uh, you know, a week later and the scab would fall off and it would start bleeding again. It’s the same with emotional wounds. And sometimes those wounds are significant, right? Sometimes they are the abandonment, sometimes they are the abuse. But other times it’s something that is that could be internalized very differently. I share an example in the book, in the prioritization chapter of a client of mine whose aliases Andre and he loved his mama so much, had such regard for her, such deep respect for her.

Vienna Pharaon: She’s a single mom. She worked multiple jobs, doubles every single day except on Sundays where they would go to church together and then they’d have brunch afterwards, and he could fit in our sessions and rationalize that this was her way of prioritizing him. This was her way of trying to give him the best possible life that she could. And he was correct. He was correct in that. But it didn’t change that Andre still craved to feel a sense of prioritization with his mom through time spent with her. And I share that example, because sometimes when we hear this, like wounding language and like, oh, like, what’s the thing that I have? Well, I didn’t have it so bad. Or my, my parents were amazing or my, my childhood was great. Those are the distractions away from actually tuning into something that is that is there. And if Andre had had kept just trying to protect mom and just kind of see it through like, but she is trying and this is her way of doing it, he would be distracting away from something that was incredibly important for him to acknowledge, which was that he didn’t feel prioritized through time spent. That is what he wanted. That is what he craved. And this is a heartbreaking one, right? Because we know mom is mom is doing everything. She’s she absolutely is doing her best. And yet we still need to name and acknowledge what our experiences were. We still need to name and acknowledge what was true for us.

Gabe Howard: To clarify, it’s not something that was done to you on purpose. It’s not an intentional or an extreme act. It can be something that you just feel impacted you negatively. Like my parents were very strict with me and didn’t allow me the space that I needed to excel and grow.

Vienna Pharaon: Yeah, and that one stands out to you. But for other people, you know, if they’re like, well, it wasn’t so bad, or here’s why they had to do that. Those types of statements really are a distraction away from just naming how you experienced it and how it was internalized. You know, people like to rationalize and explain like, oh, well, I wasn’t prioritized because, you know, my dad was working, but he had to, right? Because he was the breadwinner. It’s like, well, what would happen if we just cut the last part of that sentence and just say, I didn’t feel prioritized by my dad, period. Like to allow ourselves to name and again, not to destroy anyone, not to hate anyone, not to throw anyone under the bus, but to practice just acknowledging what it is that was true for us. So yeah, there’s a big, big spectrum. I talk about wound comparison in the book, and it’s so easy to feel like you don’t have space if your story isn’t as bad as somebody else is, or, you know, so many other people who’ve had it way worse than you. And so we use that as a way to disconnect from our own stories. We’re not in competition with people, you know, this is we’re not our wounds are not in competition. Right? Our job is to tend to ourselves. Our job is to see ourselves clearly. Our job is to honor and acknowledge what is there for us so that it can loosen its grip.

Gabe Howard: I think the other thing that people dismiss is something that happened to you in childhood can impact you in adulthood, because we say things like, look, that was so long ago, that was your childhood, who cares? In fact, you know, I’m going to go full on middle aged white guy right now. It’s you’re a grown ass man. Does this matter? Who cares what happened

Vienna Pharaon: Mhm.

Gabe Howard: To you at 12? But it turns out what happened to me at 12 is actually extraordinarily impactful in my

Vienna Pharaon: Yeah.

Gabe Howard: 40s. Is that true? Are people ignoring these things because they don’t think it’s important, and in actuality, it’s vital to notice these things, respond to these things, and, of course, address these things?

Vienna Pharaon: It’s vital. I think some people don’t think it’s important. I think some people are scared of what they’ll find. I think some people are, you know, conditioned to just be grateful for what they have and to not look for the things that impacted them. There’s a lot of reasons why we wouldn’t want to do that, but it’s vital. I remember when I was. But this was before my husband and I married. But it was while we were dating and I we were in a fight and I have no clue what the fight was about, but I what I do remember is that I was doubling down. Tripling down. I was proving my point over and over and over again. And he was sitting there and he was like, I got it. I understand what you’re saying. I hear you. And I just kept going and going and going, having a little bit of an out of body experience, like, stop talking like he’s telling you he’s got it. He understands like enough. And I kept going, I kept going, and I finally stopped. And I could feel the shame, you know, coming in. And I wanted to understand, like, what is the function of proving my point right? What does it serve for me to need to be right?

Vienna Pharaon: What is that trying to protect me from? And I honestly didn’t have to dig very far. I grew up in a family. I had mentioned before that my parents went through a nine-year divorce process, which was the longest process in the state of new Jersey at the time, and it was highly conflictual. There was a lot of gaslighting, manipulation, psychological abuse, uh, paranoia, emotional flooding. It was, it was awful. And I had a father, um, who was. Yeah, like a real master manipulator at the time. And he would oh, gosh, just change details and change facts. And he was so good at it. And I remember observing it. It wasn’t directed at me. It was directed at my mom. And I remember watching these interactions, and it was quite literally crazy making for my mom and being an observer of that. I remember as a kid, and I don’t know that I would have framed it this way as a child, but when I reflected back on it, I was like, oh, I saw my dad being right meant power, control, safety being wrong meant weakness. Insecurity, lack of safety and crazy making. And so I had learned through these repetitive, uh, experiences and witnessing of this go down, you know, day in and day out, that being right was safe and being wrong was unsafe. And when I identified that, remember feeling this, you know, sort of a big aha moment.

Gabe Howard: But is this common? It just seems really counterintuitive to me that looking to the past will help you improve your present or your future. It kind of reminds me of that social media meme that says, don’t look in the rear-view mirror. You’re not going that way. What are your personal thoughts on that line of thinking?

Sponsor Break:

Gabe Howard: And we’re back with marriage and family therapist Vienna Pharaon.

Vienna Pharaon: You know, Personally, I believe through my own personal experiences as well as my professional where I’ve worked with over 25,000 hours of direct clinical work with individuals, couples and families. And there’s never been a time, not once, where. Something from our history is not relevant to what we are trying to work on present day. In my experience, it does come back to that. In my experience, we do need to understand. And when I say that, I don’t again, don’t mean that we need to have every memory from the past because sometimes we don’t have memories, right? Sometimes they’re far away. Sometimes we’re not going to have the full story about something. But, a willingness to explore our history. Right. That that to me is so vital here. The family of origin has got to be a part of the conversation because it has directed so much of our lives. And sometimes we know in many ways what that is. But other times, you know, it’s very hidden or it hasn’t been revealed to us just yet.

Gabe Howard: I know that it’s a podcast and people can’t see me, but my head was bobbing up and down so much

Vienna Pharaon: [Laughter]

Gabe Howard: When you were like, look, if you’re not exploring your family, if you’re not exploring your childhood, if you’re not exploring where you came from, you’re just missing out on so much. I’m just I’m practically jumping up and down in my chair. But for many people, as you sort of, uh, hinted at, it’s not a priority. It’s not something that they’re doing, and it’s not even something that people are really doing in therapy. So this does move the question, I suppose, one back, which is, okay, you’ve convinced me I’m on board. I want to find my origin wound. I want to understand my family of origin. I want to understand how where I came from is impacting my life. Now, how

Vienna Pharaon: Mhm.

Gabe Howard: How do you do that?

Vienna Pharaon: Yeah. And I was that person. You know, I think part of why I can speak to this so well is like I was the person who, believe it or not, was going around even when I was in grad school, was going around, to become a marriage and family therapist, mind you, was going around saying that that nine-year divorce process didn’t affect me at all. Right? Like, so I actually know this this space really well. Um, and it took a long time for even me to get to a place to say I was affected. I, that I experienced trauma like that. For me, it was so hard to say those words out loud and so I have a lot of compassion for people who are resistant to this, because I had been resistant for decades, even in this work, even getting educated in it. So I just wanted to share that, um, where can we begin? When I was growing up, my dad, when I was a like, quote unquote good kid, my dad was super present, super helpful. Um, yeah. Like super happy. We did a lot together. Um, but when I stepped out of being this quote unquote good kid, and I have to say, like I was, I didn’t I didn’t step out in bad ways at all.

Vienna Pharaon: But when I stepped out in ways that he didn’t like, um, I was punished through the silent treatment.And that would go on for days or weeks on end. And so I really learned that relationships could be lost unless I was presenting in the way that the other person wanted or needed me to. Right. And that was so important because I turned it for many reasons, but I, I was a needless little girl. Fly under the radar. I’m fine, I’m good, I’m okay. Who turned into a needless woman who also was, you know, just so afraid of people exiting, people leaving that sort of that punishment, even though there wasn’t a physical abandonment . There was actually an abandonment that was an emotional abandonment. Right? That was a that there was like a presence abandonment. Right. Like you’re no longer available to me unless I am who you want me to be.

Gabe Howard: Your book shares that, quote, unhealed pain or wounds in that family of origin will manifest in our adult behaviors, unquote. All right. I’m on board. I can really see how something from our past and specifically our childhoods could affect us during present day. And I can really see how it can affect us in a way that we don’t like. But now what? How do we even begin to figure out where to start?

Vienna Pharaon: You know, for me, probably one of the best questions is, is to look where it is You are the most reactive in your life. Reactivity is a really good signpost for us, and it’s going to help point us towards like, okay, I was really reactive about that and maybe asking yourself the question then when you are exploring this reactivity, like why I got so upset about what just happened, you know, did the thing, is it connected to you questioning your worthiness, your belonging, you as a priority to that person, your level of trust with them or your level of safety with them. Um, as a place to start. And I think also one of the most important questions the therapist ever asked me was, you know, when you’re looking back at your childhood, if you’re willing to go there, uh, with us right now, um, it’s like, what is it that you needed most and didn’t get? As a big question and not one that we should, you know, rattle off or, you know, even the listener might think, oh, I know I got everything that I needed. Just pause in that and let yourself actually sit with that question without explanations, without rationalizing, without minimizing or maximizing things, or distorting it in any way. Just see if you can answer that question and put a period at the end of the sentence. What I needed most was x.

Gabe Howard: And is it okay for the thing that you need most to back up against somebody who could not give it to you? Like,

Vienna Pharaon: All 100%.

Gabe Howard: Like in the example that you gave of Andre, where he wanted and needed more attention and more time from his mom, but she was working two jobs and doing the best that she could. It’s not like she was denying or neglecting him on purpose. The circumstances just worked against them. In a case like that, isn’t it just unreasonable or frankly, even an insult to the mother to say that you needed more? I mean, she was literally giving Andre everything that she had to give.

Vienna Pharaon: Yeah, of course. And I think that that’s part of this work is that we are flexible human beings, thank goodness, where we can hold all of that so we can honor and have compassion and grace for others. But you need to start honoring your experience without dismissing or minimizing or distorting it. I want it to feel like a priority growing up. Period. You’re not throwing daggers at anyone. You are connecting to yourself. I wanted to know that I was loved without needing to perform. Period. Not, but thank goodness, because that made me a straight-A student. And then I got into a really good college, and now I have a great career because they made me perform. Not that. Period. Take a breath. To honor ourselves does not mean that we have to negate everything else.

Gabe Howard: I love that message because it’s not one that’s out there. It’s always

Vienna Pharaon: Yeah.

Gabe Howard: Grin and bear it. Suck it up. Everybody’s doing the best that they can. And why are you throwing shade on people who worked so hard for you?

Vienna Pharaon: Mm-hmm. Yeah.

Gabe Howard: This is a very different message than what’s, well, frankly, out in the world right now.

Vienna Pharaon: Um, yeah. I don’t think, you know, it’s not an invitation to throw shade, and I. It hurts my heart, actually, that we maybe exist in this, like, either this or that or this binary of it. And I think it’s there’s just such complexity to it. And I think we can have compassion. I mean, I believe that this is true as we relate to others and also as we relate to ourselves, is that we have compassion and grace for the human, and we also require ownership and accountability and responsibility. Right. Like, to me, that is what self-love is. That is what other love is, is that, you know, we see ourselves as human beings. That’s not an excuse, but we see ourselves as flawed human beings with a complex story. And we also have to have ownership and accountability and responsibility in our lives in the same with other people. Right. In order to actually move through the world as well. Yeah, this isn’t an invitation to throw shade. This isn’t an invitation to blame. In fact, I think that if we’re in a place of blaming only, we stay stuck to. You can’t heal from a place of blaming others, right? Like you can acknowledge and you can name what it is that’s happened. But then ultimately we become responsible for our own healing.

Gabe Howard: Vienna, thank you so much for being with us today. Now, your book, “The Origins of You: How Breaking Family Patterns Can Liberate the Way We Live and Love” is available wherever you get your books. How can listeners find out more about you?

Vienna Pharaon: Yeah. You can find me @mindfulmft, as in marriage family therapy on Instagram. My website is ViennaPharaon.com and NewYorkCouplesCounseling.com. I have a group practice. Um, and if you want a little more like insight into the work, I also have a really cool podcast called This Keeps Happening, where I speak with anonymous guests who are struggling with something in their lives present day. Um, and it’s a one time, one hour consultation. I don’t know anything about them. Before we sit down, other than a couple of sentences, and it’s just a beautiful, um, expression of what can happen when people come together for even in a short period of time to talk about something, be heard, be understood, and see if there’s a little bit of shifting that can take place there. So I’ve really enjoyed the show as well.

Gabe Howard: Again, thank you so much for being here.

Vienna Pharaon: Of course, of course. Thank you for having me. This is a great conversation.

Gabe Howard: Ah, you’re very welcome, Vienna. And a big thank you to all of our listeners. My name is Gabe Howard, and I’m an award-winning public speaker. And I could be available for your next event. I also wrote the book “Mental Illness Is an Asshole and Other Observations,” which you can get on Amazon. However, you can grab a signed copy with free show swag or learn more about me by heading over to gabehoward.com. Wherever you downloaded this episode, please follow or subscribe to the show. It’s absolutely free and you don’t want to miss a thing. And listen up! Can you do me a favor? Can you recommend the show? Share it in a support group, share it on social media. Send somebody a text message. Send somebody an email. Mention it at Thanksgiving dinner because sharing the show is how we grow. I will see everybody next Thursday on Inside Mental Health.

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