Life Style

Nicole Prieur: “We have the right to free ourselves from family stories”

You say that family myths lock up. Why ?

Nicole Prieur: Family myths have a structuring side, but they also transmit a lot of unconscious injunctions. However, these are linked to facts of family history which do not always concern us. We have to free ourselves from these myths when they are overwhelmingly sclerosing. This is not uncommon. I receive in consultation people who multiply the symptoms, the behaviors of failure in their relationship or their work because they feel obliged to respond to assignments carried by a family myth. All of this, of course, happens implicitly. No one says to a child: “At So-and-so, we must go bankrupt”, for example.

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I try to help these people identify these stories and keep them at bay. However, this is not easy because these people find themselves in a conflict of loyalty: to be faithful to themselves or to be faithful to their family. This is not possible without “betraying” it to some extent.

Is that why you speak of “necessary betrayals”?

NP: Yes, in our society, betrayal is frowned upon. But sometimes it is necessary to betray in order not to “betray” oneself. It is important to accept that we cannot satisfy all the competing loyalties that surround us. We will never be the “good” son, “good” husband, “good” father, etc. that we are waiting for us to be. Being loyal to some can make us disloyal to others.

“Ethical betrayal” is questioning what I can give up in order to respect myself but also what I must not give up in order to respect my family. There is a sorting to be done in the myths in which I identify with myself and those which distance me from what I am. This work is very liberating. According to ethnologist Marcel Mauss, relationships are structured around giving, receiving, and giving back, in the family they are organized on the basis of donations, debts and loyalties. What do I owe others but also what do I owe myself in order to be able to accomplish myself?

Can you give us some examples?

NP: I am thinking, for example, of a young woman who was a virtuoso pianist but was injured the day before each important concert. We found out together that her grandmother had been an excellent pianist who had ended her career to take care of her children. By injuring herself, the granddaughter forbade herself to become better than the grandmother. I helped her, under hypnosis, to construct another representation of her grandmother so that she would allow her to succeed better than her.

Another example is the so-called “class defectors”, who are socially successful, often feel in debt to their families. Often times, they are better off when they can recognize what they owe their family, even if it is not exactly what they expected.


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