Brin Jackson, Fantasy writer & daydreamer

The journey of writing, craft, and of connection.


Family Rules and Character Development

Sarah Callender’s September 14, 2016, Writer Unboxed essay “The Power of Myth in Fiction” stirs me to add my own spin on a complicated family dynamic – rules. In particular, family rules.

I believe our earliest learnings are influenced by family rules. We grow up surrounded by rules: Societal rules of conduct, educational and institutional rules, and, familial rules. All dictate, influence, and determine our behavior.

What fascinates me, is most of our rules aren’t our own. My rules, for example, can be traced to my mother, who learned her rules from her mother, and back we go, for – well, a long time. It’s a multi-generational learning within our parents family of origin. Not surprisingly, many of these rules don’t fit this millennium.

How many rules that are not of our own making guide us, hobble us, or liberate us?

I encourage you to take a moment and jot down some of the rules you grew up with. Did they affect you? Your choices? Did you do, or not do, something you desired because of a rule?

There are spoken rules, “Children should be seen and not heard,” and unspoken rules. The look that said, “We don’t talk about Aunt Mildred sleeping around,” or “What goes on in the house, stays in the house.”

We pull these rules, most unwittingly, along with us into adulthood. Many rules only serve to mess us up and we spend a portion of our adulthood seeking to find our own congruence with our unique set of values and view of the world. Often wildly different from those of our childhood.

When we identify what was learned from our family of origin, we can replace this old learning and patterns of interaction with healthier and more relevant ways. We can explore family rules people follow for processing information.

Our rules affect/create our coping style in the world and impact how we deal with change and our health. We tend to connect with people with similar rules and behaviors and we base/judge others subconsciously on rules of behavior. Our level of self esteem is affected and our familial rules can create tremendous dysfunction in our lives. In other words, we fail to find the potential to live a congruent lifestyle.

Virginnia Satir believed:

“My approach, the Human Process Validation Model is based on the premise that all we manifest at any point in time represents what we have learned, consciously, implicitly, cellularly. Our behavior reflects what we have learned. Learning is the basis of behavior. To change behavior, we need to have new learning. To accomplish new learning, we need a motive, a purpose, a nurturing context, and a trust in something from the outside to help us.”

Virginnia Satir believes we all have a coping stance, either a prevalent stance or a blending of stances. They are:

  • Placating.
  • Blaming.
  • Being super-reasonable.
  • Being irrelevant.

Often, without fully understanding, rules can make us defensive, and based on past learning, we automatically fall back on projecting, denying, and ignoring.

Sounds like a powerful way to contemplate how we develop our characters, wouldn’t you agree?

We are familiar hearing, “People learn only when they are in a state of chaos.” And, “Change is an internal shift that brings about external change.”

Ask yourself:

  • What were your protagonist’s childhood rules?
  • Did he/she fight against those rules or submit to them?
  • How did those rules impacted their adult life and behavior?
  • Can your protagonist break free from those constricting rules and create rules that fit their way of moving in their world (congruence) – with or without integrity?

I hope my musing on Rules gives you something to ponder!