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WISE UP: Step Four

In each of our families there was an accompanying story like

an advertisement ‘strap line’, something we would tell other

people to describe our family.


Some strap lines may be:

  • ‘We’re a go getter family’

  • ‘Our Mom was always sick, but we managed’

  • ‘We were always broke, but we stuck together’


Family strap lines were usually based on a defensive position coupled with us trying to protect the family secret from outsiders. The reality is that our family strap lines were untrue.


In this exercise we begin to re-write the family strap lines to help us understand the dysfunction and the part we played to keep the family secret safe.

We know these are not judgements, just a fact finding mission.




We begin by identifying the family strap lines, e.g.:


My family strap line was: we are one big happy family


We then re-write it to reflect the reality, e.g.:

The real story was: we were a deeply dysfunctional family with one parent alcoholic

and one parent addicted to pills

Next, we make a list of three statements that our family

said to US about US on a regular basis, e.g.:


  • You should be grateful for what you get

  • If it weren't for you this family would be happy

  • You're lazy


We then re-write these statements to reflect the reality, e.g.:

  • I couldn't work out the strings attached to what I was given because I was a child  

  • I wasn't responsible for other people's happiness

  • I wasn't lazy, I was frightened


Finally we list external statements that we heard about the wider family or the world outside, e.g.:


  • Religion is for peasants

  • Grandpa is a wife beater

  • Even though they’re black, they’re nice

We re-write these statements according to our own values today, e.g.:

  • Religion is for anyone who wants to follow   

  • Grandpa may have been a wife beater but it was inappropriate for me to be hearing that type of talk at such a young age

  • Racism is not something I wanted to be a part of as a child 


Some of us, at this point, may feel the urge to talk to our families about what happened to us as children, how we felt and what we experienced.


It's been suggested that we wait until we're further down the Steps before attempting to have these conversations.


It's not until we feel stronger do we look back and recognise how vulnerable we were.

Even as adults, that vulnerability may still live inside us. We need to avoid situations that may trigger old wounds until we are well along the healing path.

Family Strap Lines

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