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Lesson 2: A Family Systems Issue

As we continue to dig into our family of origin, it can make us feel uncomfortable. For many of us, we love our parents and understand that they did their best in raising us. For others, we may struggle with this process, uncertain of how exhuming our past is going to lead to healing. We are concerned that digging up our past will reveal areas we are not yet ready to process—areas that may change us, but also change our current relationships.

While change is good, we may have gotten to a point in our rocky relationships where things are not so bad right now. As it is, we can maintain the relationship, but if something “rocks the boat,” we may not be able to handle the outcome. So why even go there?

“You are a product of your environment.

This is a fact: each of us is a product of our environment. While we were growing up, everything that happened to us and around us played a role in our development. This is especially true when it comes to the way we were parented.


Understanding the parent-child relationship is huge when it comes to gaining insight into our family system issues. It affects the way we develop our attachment skills and relate to others. It affects the way we process our world physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually, and even sexually. It is a key element to recognizing why we do what we do in relationships.

Research into the effects of parenting on the physical, social, and emotional development of a child date back to the early 1930s.59 The early parenting studies focused on only two factors: the quality of parent-child interactions (warmth) and the nature of parental discipline (control). However, in the mid-1960s, Diana Baumrind shifted the focus of her research, looking at the behavioral characteristics of children as the outcome of the way the child was parented. This was foundational in identifying three parenting styles.

Authoritarian parents require strict adherence to rigid rules.60 This creates a parent-child dynamic that is based on obedience and compliance, not on relationship. Authoritarian parents have a commanding presence. They expect their children to not question authority, do as their told, and abide by the rules. They are quick to express their disappointment in their child’s behavior, but reluctant to give praise or recognition for any acceptable behavior.

Permissive parents have few rules, give their children minimal responsibility, and do not hold their children accountable for their actions. Permissive parents provide little support, guidance, training, and discipline. Their children grow up with a lack of direction and purpose, and an unhealthy sense of entitlement. .

Authoritative parents communicate clear boundaries and guidance for behavior, built on a foundation of love and affection. They train their children through responsibility, accountability, and consistent support. They encourage their children to be independent thinkers and to make good decisions in a safe and caring environment. They create and cultivate relationship through healthy communication and respect.

In the early 1980s, a fourth parenting style was added.61 Uninvolved or neglectful parents attempt to meet their child’s basic needs of food and shelter, but rarely provide more than the minimal necessities. They offer little, if any, support, guidance, training, or discipline. They are unresponsive to the physical, social, and emotional needs of their children. Uninvolved or neglectful parents tend to be indifferent toward their children and non-existent in their children’s lives.

I felt the enormous weight of shame and embarrassment as I sat around the table with eight other women. I was new to this church and only agreed to attend the women’s conference because a friend paid my way. If I had known that I might have to talk about my childhood, I never would have agreed to attend.

The main speaker was engaging and spoke empathetically about how our childhood environment can play a significant role in shaping our perspective and impacting our decisions. I knew this too well. I was 26 years old, married and divorced, and had two children that were given up for adoption at birth. My past was sprinkled with promiscuous sex, drug use, unemployment, and abortions.

As I sat and listened to the other women talk about their childhoods—some good, some not so good—I felt overwhelmed with fear and sick to my stomach. I knew I didn’t have to share, but in the moment, I couldn’t help myself.

I told them that I was the oldest of three kids: I love my younger brother and sister very much. I don’t have many memories of my parents because they weren’t around much. My siblings and I often came home from school to an empty house. Sometimes my parents didn’t return for several days.

I felt responsible for my brother and sister, and tried to take care of them even if it meant stealing food from a local market or from a neighbor. I knew stealing was wrong, but didn’t feel like I had a choice. At one point, after a few weeks of showing up to school dirty, hungry, and obviously lacking parental care, I broke down. I told my teacher I was afraid my parents were never coming back. My siblings and I entered the foster care system that day.

Although there was not a dry eye among the women listening, I remained emotionally unaffected. I faintly smiled and said, “I hear all of you talk about the way you were raised and I don’t think I was raised…I think I just grew up.”


One of the most interesting aspects of the parenting style research is the outcome: the overall effect it has on a child’s development. Look at some of the common characteristics produced by the different parenting styles:

Authoritarian parents produce children who are or have:
• Obedient
• Self-controlled
• Limited emotional awareness
• Introverted
• Anxious and/or fearful
• Average academic performance
• Independent
• Poor social skills
• Low self-esteem
• Higher levels of depression
Permissive parents produce children who are or have:
• Dependent
• Immature
• Behavioral issues
• Lack of motivation
• Poor academic performance
• High self-esteem
• Good social skills
• Lower levels of depression
Authoritative parents produce children who are or have:
• Competent
• Self-controlled
• Interdependent
• Assertive
• Adventurous
• Excellent academic performance
• High self-esteem
• Good social skills
• Low levels of depression
Uninvolved or neglectful parents produce children who are or have:
• Insecure
• Indifferent
• Introverted
• Suspicious
• Poor academic performance
• Vulnerable to addiction
• Low self-esteem
• Poor social skills
• High levels of depression

While most professionals suggest that we were all raised with a primary parenting style, there can be overlap within the core components

While this may be a difficult lesson for many of us, the intent is not to blame our parents. The intent is to help us understand where we come from and how it explains our behavior. As we process how our environment contributes to who we are today—the good, the bad, and the ugly—contemplate the full extent of what W. Clement Stone was saying:

“You are a product of your environment. So choose the environment
that will best develop you toward your objective. Analyze your life
in terms of its environment. Are the things around you helping you
toward success—or are they holding you back?

We have discovered the significance of parenting styles: how they contributed to our development and the environment in which we were raised. In so many ways, this created the filter by which we process our life—the filter we use to manage relationships


The FACES Evaluation was created to help us identify the way our family of origin contributed to many of our current thoughts, feelings, and behaviors—how it contributes to our personality. This allows us to discern where dysfunctional patterns continue to persist in our relationships.

My husband and I had been married several years and pastored a large church. At some point in our marriage, we took the FACES Evaluation: we were curious—and in denial—about how our past had impacted our relationship. My husband had an addictive personality, seven stepdads, and an alcoholic mom. He scored a one/two on the evaluation. This was the lowest score possible, revealing that his family was highly rigid and disengaged. Most people who struggle with addictive behaviors come from a rigid and disengaged home where there is little emotional connection and firm rules that demand perfection and “trying harder” as a way of life.

My parents had Christian ethics and were married for 50 years before my mom passed away. I was certain I would score much higher on the FACES Evaluation. I was shocked when I also scored a one/two.64

The purpose of this evaluation is not to blame our parents, but to discover negative patterns from our past that are inhibiting our relationship with God and others. We can only change the effects of our past through awareness.

Try to be intentional and thorough when taking the evaluation, following all instructions.


____ 1. Family members were supportive of each other during difficult times.
____ 2. In our family, it was easy for everyone to express his/her opinion.
____ 3. It was easier to discuss problems with people outside the family than with family members.
____ 4. Each family member had input regarding major family decisions.
____ 5. Our family gathered together in one room.
____ 6. Children had a say in their discipline.
____ 7. Our family did things together.
____ 8. Family members discussed problems and felt good about the solutions.
____ 9. In our family, everyone went his/her own way.
____ 10. We shifted household responsibilities from person to person.
____ 11. Family members knew each other’s close friends.
____ 12. It was hard to know what the rules were in our family.
____ 13. Family members consulted other family members on personal decisions.
____ 14. Family members said what they wanted.
____ 15. We had difficulty thinking of things to do as a family.
____ 16. In solving problems, the children’s suggestions were followed.
____ 17. Family members felt very close to each other.
____ 18. Discipline was fair in our family.
____ 19. Family members felt closer to people outside the family than to family members.
____ 20. Our family tried new ways of dealing with problems.

____ 21. Family members went along with what the family decided to do.
____ 22. In our family, everyone shared responsibilities.
____ 23. Family members liked to spend their free time with each other.
____ 24. It was difficult to get a rule changed in our family.
____ 25. Family members avoided each other at home.
____ 26. When problems arose, we compromised.
____ 27. We approved of each other’s friends.
____ 28. Family members were afraid to say what was on their minds.
____ 29. Family members paired up rather than doing things as a total family.
____ 30. Family members shared interests and hobbies with each other.


1. Sum items 3, 9, 15, 19, 25 and 29. __________
2. Subtract that figure from 36. 36 – __________ = __________
3. Sum all other odd numbers plus item 30. __________ + __________ = __________
4. Add the figures from step 2 and step 3 to obtain a total cohesion score. __________


1. Sum items 24 and 28. __________
2. Subtract that figure from 12. 12 – __________ = __________
3. Sum all other even numbers except item 30. __________
4. Add the figures from step 2 and step 3 to obtain a total adaptability score. __________


 Find your total Cohesion score and your total Adaptability score in the chart above. Then look at the number (1 through 8) associated with that range. Write that number (1 through 8) in the space provided.
Example: If you score a 59 on Cohesion, put a 4 above Cohesion. If you score a 30 on Adaptability, put a 2 in the blank above Adaptability.
 Add your Cohesion and Adaptability numbers and divide by 2 to get your Family Type. In our example, 4 + 2 = 6, divided by 2 is 3 (Type). If you scored 3 for “Type” this would be in the low to moderate range.


Family Type is determined through the combined Cohesion and Adaptability scores. Extreme forms of family functioning are evident in very high and very low scores: enmeshed/chaotic and disengaged/rigid. Moderate to high scores correlate with connected and flexible family functioning; whereas, low to moderate scores correlate with separated and structured family functioning. The 16 possible variations of Family Type are displayed in the following diagram.

Our score is revealing. If our combined average is too high or too low, we may have been negatively affected by our family of origin.67 Families that reflect these scores—too high or too low—can be a breeding ground for addictive behaviors.

The good news is that family systems can change, as explained by Diane

A though my family of origin looked “more put together” than my husband’s, both of us came from a rigid and disengaged family system. We decided right then that we didn’t want to pass this generational curse onto our children. We looked at all the questions that caused us to have a low score and made a commitment to proactively change how we “did” family. After working on these changes for five years, we gave the FACES Evaluation to both of our children: each scored a six. In one generation, our family went from a one/two score to a six! The generational curse was stopped and God is now pouring out blessings on our family

But I lavish unfailing love for a thousand generations on those who love me and obey my commands.

Regardless of our past, God wants the very best for us. He will take all our brokenness and use it for something amazing that will bring glory to our heavenly Father.

As we continue to learn how our family of origin shaped our current behaviors, we can use this as an opportunity to create new goals through our weekly commitment to change.

Looking Ahead

Complete the FASTER Scale, Group Check-in, Self-Care lesson, Thoughts/Feelings
Awareness Log, and Change & Growth Analysis in your Unraveled: Weekly Tools before
the next group meeting.