You may have heard phrases like, family is everything or no one will love you like your family.
Though these phrases may be true for some people, it may not be true for everyone.
When your family of origin doesn’t feel safe, it may mean that you get to surround yourself with a family of choice instead.
As a child, you may not have had choice or voice in your family of origin.
Growing up may have felt unsafe, unstable, or chaotic.
This is an indicator that you may want to build a family of choice as an adult to help meet needs of belonging, love, and safety.
Family history can also play a role in the need to develop a family of choice due to addictions, substance abuse, generational trauma, abuse, or dysfunction.
A young child may not be able to discern whether their birth family or loved ones are in healthy relationships with them.
A parent may seem okay when you are a child, especially if they are your primary caregiver.
This can impact your mental health.
Sometimes, a family of origin shifts. You may have felt loved as a child or young person. However, the dynamic may have changed as an adolescent or young adult because of lifestyle choices that weren’t supported by your parents, caregivers, siblings, or another family member.
You may feel ostracized from your family of origin as an adult and have difficulty maintaining family relationships. By building a family of choice, you can create new relationships with people who provide safety.
You didn’t have a choice who your family was a child, but you can protect yourself as an adult.
Though families are not perfect whether they are of origin or choice, you deserve love and belonging no matter what. Belonging to yourself first can help.
Here are 5 ways to develop a family of choice:
1. Be selective.
Creating boundaries around your chosen family can help you to protect yourself during this process.
Read More: “What Are Boundaries And Why Are They Important? Learn To Set And Keep Boundaries”
Though you may recreate some unhealthy family dynamics, you can make your goal safety and love through effective communication.
You will likely make mistakes in the process, and boundaries can help.
By setting and maintaining boundaries with people, you can develop intimacy. If it doesn’t feel comfortable to be around a person, you don’t have to invite them into the chosen family you are creating.
Conflict may still occur, so ask yourself who you are most willing to solve problems with as they arise.
Caring people with emotional awareness who are willing to evaluate situations thoughtfully may be good candidates.
2. Identify your values.
A family of choice doesn’t have to be comprised of people who don’t agree with you. Though perspective taking can be important in a healthy relationship, core values can be non-negotiable in families of choice.
Since you are likely seeking a family of choice because of distance with your family of origin, you don’t have to select people who don’t believe in the same values as you.
This doesn’t mean that you don’t select people because they don’t like the same toppings on pizza as you; instead, it may mean that you choose people who align with your beliefs about treatment of people.
If you notice that people in your chosen family have the same characteristics as people who don’t support you, you may want to reevaluate.
A close friend can be considered part of your family of choice. There doesn’t have to be separation between friends and family.
Read More: “What Is Codependency And What Does It Mean For Relationships?”
3. Adjust your expectations.
No one is perfect, and no family is perfect. The goal is to make progress with safety, love, and belonging among adults who care.
You can be selective, and it can also be important to stay open to options.
Choosing a family means that you are acknowledging that you want to do life with this group of people.
There is a risk factor, and you can practice resiliency. That means that you are loving and accepting toward yourself so that others can treat you well too.
No one is going to meet all of your needs, and it is not fair to ask that of anyone else.
To get ready to choose your family, you may want to get curious about how you can meet your own needs before you seek it from others. Inner family system therapy can be helpful to identify what you need before you seek it from others.
4. Acknowledge grief.
Though a family of choice can be rewarding, it is important to acknowledge the grief you may have from your family of origin. It’s not helpful to stuff down your feelings and pretend that nothing is wrong.
You will likely have good days, bad days, and in between days when you are separating from a family of origin. It is not easy to distance yourself from people who know your family history.
It can be painful when you need an emergency contact or someone to pick you up from the hospital, and you no longer count on your family of origin.
Social media can make things worse when it comes to comparing families.
There is no ideal family, and there are all different types. Let yourself grieve those moments before you try to move forward.
Grounding techniques can help. It can also be helpful to seek professional help, like a therapist, when grief becomes too much. EMDR therapy is an especially beneficial therapy for grief.
5. Be patient with yourself.
You don’t have to construct a family of choice in a day.
You may find some natural fits right away and wait on a few others.
Your family of choice doesn’t have to be huge, and it can feel inclusive. You get to tap into the tools already within you to determine what feels best to you.
A family of choice is not all or nothing.
You can make different choices at any time. You aren’t stuck in a permanent situation because you have made an initial selection.
Allow yourself to make mistakes and learn about yourself in the process.
A family of choice can help you to create a sense of belonging within yourself and in relation to others. You don’t have to make excuses for why you have distanced yourself from your family of origin.
You get to share as much or as little as you wish with people, and by creating boundaries, you can develop safety in your relationships.
You are worth the effort, and therapies like EMDR can help with the grief of losing a family of origin no matter when it happened.
This can impact your life, and you deserve to nurture yourself into a new sense of belonging.
Written by: Randi Thackeray, MA
Clinically Reviewed and Edited by: Julie Reichenberger, MA, LPC, ACS, ACC