Dealing with the Halloween Ghosts and Goblins in your Family

David Olsen, Ph.D, LCSW

Watching our miniature neighborhood ghosts and goblins decked out in their amazing costumes this time of year is always fun. While I enjoy watching the children’s joy on Halloween, though, I’m always struck by the juxtaposition of Halloween and All Saints Day. In the church calendar, the latter directly follows Halloween. I find it ironic that we move so quickly from the ghosts of Halloween to the celebration of the “saints” that have passed on.

This raises a question - when you think of your family of origin, do you think of witches, ghosts, goblins and scary creatures, or a collection of Saints that you idealize? In reality, neither picture is accurate. Anyone who sees their parents and family members as “saints” is creating just as flawed a picture as the pop-psychology that demonizes parents. Both ways of thinking encourage reductionistic, black and white pictures. In reality, our parents are a little bit of both. This is, of course, not to minimize the pain of addiction, abuse, or dysfunctional families. Instead, it is to recognize that black and white thinking frequently misses the point and blocks our own opportunities for growth.

So how should we think about our families? Perhaps the following principles, the 3 Gs, will be helpful:

Obviously, none of this is easy. Understanding our multigenerational history, full of complex characters, is complicated and important work. So, as we reflect on the “saints and sinners” in our family history, let’s try to create a larger framework for understanding them, as well as the impact on ourselves. Talking to a trained family therapist can be a helpful part of the process.