The Messages You Keep (from your family)

July 19, 2013

I believe that when we were young, we were all told, explicitly and implicitly, what was important. We gained information about highly valued characteristics from our peers, the media and our parents.

As a therapist, I listen carefully to the values my clients have gained from their families as a way of developing a deeper understanding of their identity. With couples, I find that discussions around the differences in family values often provide insight into the places where each couple feels most stuck.

Have you ever taken a look at the characteristics highly valued by your family?

Below is an exercise that may help you start this process. It’s pretty quick and easy. You can do it alone or with your partner.

Family Values Exercise

Adapted from The Emotionally Absent Mother by J. Cori

While reading through this list, note the characteristics that you remember as highly valued by your family when you were a child.

  • Intelligence

  • Mastery and achievement

  • Sweetness

  • Innocence

  • Delicacy

  • Sensitivity

  • Hardiness

  • Humor and silliness

  • Being tough

  • Being affectionate

  • Being confident

  • Multicultural Awareness

  • Needing others

  • Showing confidence

  • Being present in your body

  • Enjoying your contact with nature

  • Being attractive

  • Helping Behaviors

  • Expression of feelings

  • Imagination and creativity

  • Discussing differences between family members



Which of these qualities were disregarded, almost as if they didn’t exist?



Which of these qualities were mocked or belittled?



What can you see about this? How do you now, as an adult, value the qualities above? How has what your family valued influenced the way you currently live your life?


I’d love to hear your experience with this exercise. Feel free to comment below or email me at


Karen Smillie, MFT

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