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Welcome to a practical pastoral counseling site of Dr. Harold L. White

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The Family Atmosphere

Here we want the focus on the family.
It is here that your memories were made.
We will look at that part of your life from two perspectives.

First, there is the "climate control" set up by your parents, created a certain family atmosphere
that influences you to this day.

Second there is your birth order.
We know that generalizations be dangerous for research has shown that individuals
with similar personalities and problems tend to come from similar family atmospheres.

This is as true for those who come from encouraging, nurturing families as it is for those
from critical, chaotic, and abusive environments.

To see how family atmosphere dovetails with memory exploration, we will look
at the emotional climates of typical homes and the life-molding experiences they produced.

First is the authoritative home where the parents are the authorities.

When you counsel with families, you will learn that one of the most serious causes
of chaos and misery that we deal with is authoritarian parenting.
Research shows that children from authoritarian homes display the following characteristics.

They often rebel later in life or when free of authority.
They are likely to be inconsiderate of others, quarrelsome, unpopular, and emotionally unstable.
They are often very sensitive to praise and blame.
They may be polite, respectful, and proper, but shy and timid.

They are often unable to solve problems without the help of an authority.
They often lack creativity, spontaneity, and resourcefulness.
They may resort to passive-aggressive strategies such as lying and stealing.
They can "go wild" when shifted to a more permissive atmosphere or when living on his or her own.

Then there are those who grow up in a perfectionistic family atmosphere
where they are faced with a constant demand to measure up.

People raised in a perfectionistic atmosphere show many highly recognizable characteristics.
They have a feeling of never measuring up, always believing they could do much better.
They have low self-esteem.
They feel like a failure with no real hope of ever being a success.
They have strong feelings of self-criticism, lashing themselves for even
the slightest error or mistake.
They bite off more than they can chew and are never able to finish on time.
They procrastinate because "there isn't enough time to do it right anyway."

Then, there is the permissive atmosphere.

There are several characteristics of a person reared in an overly permissive family.
They have a lack of consideration for others.
They have a compulsive behavior, like overspending, overeating, or overdrinking,
typical of someone whose family atmosphere lacked direction and boundaries.

They have a quick and caustic tongue that doesn't spare the feelings of others.
They have an inability to delay gratification, and the overwhelming drive to
"Want what I want when I want it, which is now."

They have an ability to be charming on the surface, but lack the ability to maintain
lasting friendships.

Then, there is the martyred atmosphere.

Children raised in a martyred atmosphere has these characteristics.
They conclude that life doesn't hold much promise for them.
They become self-righteous and judgmental toward others.
They try to control others through guilt and manipulation.

You can see some strong similarities between the martyred child and the overprotected one.
The martyr isn't just timid and afraid of risks: he is basically pessimistic.
He knows that life just isn't going to work out and the glass is always half empty, half full.

While martyrs feel pessimistic about their own roles in life, they still look down on others,
whom they blame for all their suffering.
Often this blaming shifts to control or manipulation.

They say, "Just look at all I've been through. 
Surely you can see I need you to help me out, or at least feel sorry for me
or be impressed by my noble suffering

Conditions can overlap.
Because families include human beings, they seldom fit totally into nice neat categories.
You would look for certain trends or characteristics that may be prevalent.

And there are many other nuances or idiosyncrasies in families
that could be called "atmospheres."

In the overprotective or pitying atmosphere, excessive sympathy is given
to the misfortunes and losses of the child.
These atmospheres are close cousins to families that are permissive,
but the emphasis is on going overboard to help the child, comfort him when he is hurt,
and give him the best care possible.

In the competitive atmosphere, one family member's performance is compared
and contrasted to the others in a constant attempt to see "who can be the best."

It is similar in many ways to the perfectionistic atmosphere and, in some cases,
the authoritarian.

In the neglecting atmosphere, the parents are so preoccupied with their own problems
or interests they have no time for the child.

The neglecting parent is often pictured as a criminal or drug addict.
Sometimes that is true.
However, very often neglecting parents are workaholics who are so busy with their jobs
or their duties so that they they have little awareness of or interest in their child's needs.

In the materialistic atmosphere, the acquisition and control of things, money,
and power are sought after.

In the hurried atmosphere, all family members are caught in the fast lane of life,
and the children are exposed to adult lifestyles and adult pressures that force them
to become older than their years too quickly.

This can start as early as preschool where the kids get shoved into day care,
while the parents hurry off to high-pressure jobs, a commuter's hour or so away.
Obviously the materialistic or, hurried atmospheres can help contribute
to making children feel neglected.

Can a families’ atmosphere be changed?

Why can children from the same family atmosphere turn out to be so different from each other?
A part of the answer lies in the fact that two children reared by the same parents
and the same house can each perceive and/or respond to the family atmosphere very differently.

We must remember that it is not just the family atmosphere that shapes a child's personality.
It is also the child's perception of his family -- how he sees himself fitting into the atmosphere
of his home -- has a powerful impact.

And a lot of it has to do with the child's birth order -- his or her paticular limb on the family tree.
The theory of birth order holds that the order of your arrival in your family strongly influences
who you are today.

Basically, there are four birth order categories: only-child, first-born, the middle child,
and the last born or baby.
Each group commonly exhibits distinct characteristics.

First-borns get too much attention.

A special breed of first-born is the only-child.
Lonely onlies can often be critical of everyone, including themselves.
They grow up with few friends or playmates, and their most frequent contacts
are with Mom and Dad.

When they get older, they often have a hard time relating to their peer group.
They get along far better with people who are much older or much younger.

First-born or an only-child's early childhood memories are likely to reflect the following.
They make mistakes, goof-ups that really bothers them.
There are times of achievement (in school or athletics).
They have self-discipline (being the "good" one).
They have a concern about the approval of others.

They can be very afraid -- especially of being hurt or falling.
They do things right.
They are authority figures.
They have lots of detail.
They are stressful or lonely at times.

Because only-children and first-borns get huge amounts of attention, glory -- and pressure --
They share a common burden: being the baby of perfectionism.
If things don't go just right, the first-born or only-child can get very uptight.
Some call perfectionism a "slow suicide."

The middle child is much more "iffy."

The personalities of middle children are less predictable because they are subject
to pressures coming from more than one direction.
To understand the middle child, you usually have to look at who is above and below.

One of the few rules you can cite for middle children is that they are likely to be
the opposite of their first-born brother or sister.
Because they feel squeezed between the older and younger ones in the family,
middle children have a left-out feeling.

They go outside the home to spend time with friends more than anyone else in the family.
Friends are very important to middle-born kids.
It is among friends that the middle-borns find recognition and feelings of acceptance.

Another typical characteristic of the middle child is the ability to negotiate.
Many middle-born children are excellent diplomats who grow up to be a mediators
and go-betweens.
They can also be quite manipulative, skilled in the art of compromise and
working out contracts through negotiation because they have to deal
with both the older and younger siblings.

If you are a middle-born, your early childhood memories may reflect some of these things.
Feelings of not belonging.
Having lots of friends, and hearing Mom call you home from next door
because you're late for dinner, again.

Feelings sensitive about being treated unjustly.
Compromising -- being good at negotiation and "working things out."

Last-born children, "babies," are often the attention-getters and comedians in their families.
They love to be the life of the party -- carefree, vivacious, and outgoing.
Babies of the family love the limelight and can become self-centered
because they want all the attention.

If you are a baby of the family, these will be some of your early childhood memories.
Being cute, and getting attention with your antics.
Celebrating birthdays and Christmas and receiving gifts.
Having other people do things for you because you were "too little."
One thing is to show those bigger, older kids you could do it, too.
Feeling that you always had to prove that you could be trusted
because you were younger or "littlest."

This brief article on birth order may have left you feeling a bit confused.
You may be a first-born who acts like a middle child, but, there are usually
very good reasons for that.

Different factors affect the assembly of each family, especially spacing,
the number of years between each child.
One important birth order rule of thumb says any gap of five or more years
between children starts the entire system over.

A subtle but important thing to remember about birth order is that the entire family changes
with the birth of each child.

Besides spacing, birth order can be affected by other forces.

Leman and Carlson in their book, " Unlocking The Secrets of your Childhood Memories"
list several ways that birth order can be affected other than spacing.

The birth order of parents can make a real difference.
For example, they say that "if two perfectionistic first-born get together,
they're going to rear their children a lot differently than two babies would

A handicapped sibling can flip-flop everything and make a younger or older sibling
do a complete role reversal to help care for a child who is handicapped.

A traumatic event or the death of a sibling can have a strong effect.
So can physical differences like height, weight, and looks.
And stepsiblings are an entirely different ballgame.

Birth order is just part of the personality puzzle.
The more pieces you can find that fit, the better you will understand yourself.
And childhood memories are critical to your finding more pieces to the puzzle.

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