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Benefits of knowing and understanding your family

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When people are asked about what really matters in their lives, relationships are usually mentioned. After our basic physical needs are met it is the quality of our relationships that most influences our quality of life. How do we think about this? Is it just the current relationships we are in that matter to us and to our mental health?

In my previous blogs, I have discussed the benefits in terms of mental health of knowing your intergenerational family story. Here we delve further into this drawing on Dan Siegel’s research into how our brains and minds work.

Dan Siegel is a clinical professor of psychiatry at the UCLA School of Medicine with training in pediatrics and child, adolescent and adult psychiatry. He is a pioneer in the field of interpersonal neurobiology an interdisciplinary field that invites all branches of science and other ways of knowing to come together in order to understand the human experience.

His research has led him to conclude that:

1. we are profoundly interconnected

2. relationship is essential to our development

3. interpersonal relationships shape our brains from infancy to old age

4. mind is not something you own, it is shared between people

5. mind is a relational process that essentially regulates the flow of energy and information

6. identity is not contained so much within an individual but between individuals

It has long been thought that our early experiences define who we are. The relationships we have with our parents have a big influence on our development. The research on attachment between parents and children shows that the nature of this attachment influences how a person relates to others and their relationship with their child, passing on patterns through generations.

Dan Siegel points out something really interesting about this: the best predictor of a child’s security of attachment is not what happened to their parents as children, but rather how their parents made sense of those childhood experiences.

This highlights how knowing and understanding your family is shaping both your own relationships and that of the future generations. This challenges the long-held idea that our early experiences defined who we are. Interpersonal neurobiology holds that our brains are constantly being reshaped by new relationships.

I think this is good news we can change our brains, lives, and relationships as well as the relationships of the future generations by working on understanding our families and relationships.

I would like to leave you with something to think about. People seem to think of anxiety as a personal quality, something within them. When you think about how profoundly interconnected we are, how does this impact on your thinking about anxiety?

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