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Karmic Patterns in Family Relationships – Dree Miller-Dunlap (Is.5)

by Dree K. Miller-Dunlap, Ph.D.

It is within the context of the family that our experiences and knowledge of life in a physical body begin. The framework and interactions of the family provide the basis for a substantial amount of learning and are frequently the focus of psychotherapy. It therefore seems highly probable that the family plays a significant role in past-life therapy as well.

It is within the family that the human being goes through the stages of development that bring one from birth to adulthood (and beyond). Consider the possibility that the stages of development observed in the human being may be a reflection of the stages of development of the spiritual being. In looking at how these stages are portrayed within the patterns of past lives (particularly with the same cast—the family), we may also be looking at the spiritual stages of development. Whenever one of these stages becomes interrupted, traumatized, or diverted, development also becomes interrupted, traumatized, or diverted. The event or events that intervene in the normal development set up a “vibration” in the energy fields of the thoughts, feelings, sensations, behaviors, and/or beliefs of the individual. This intervention “locks” the vibration into the stage of development where the intervention occurred. With a part of our energy (whether physical, emotional, intellectual, or spiritual) locked, anytime a “memory” of that vibration occurs we are drawn into the stage of development where the lock exists.

Erik H. Erickson’s stages of social development are particularly useful as a frame of reference. These stages are:

1) Basic Trust vs. Mistrust (birth to year)

2) Autonomy vs. Shame & Doubt (age 2-3)

3) Initiative vs. Guilt (age 3-5 or 6)

4) Industry vs. Inferiority (school years to puberty)

5) Identity vs. Role Confusion (adolescence)

6) Intimacy vs. Isolation (young adulthood)

A Case of Basic Trust vs. Mistrust

We arrive in this world physically dependent. We are unable to feed or care for ourselves beyond our cries and limited physical movement. In this state of dependency we are quickly exposed to the elements of trust and mistrust.

John telephoned me saying he heard that I worked with men who had been involved in spouse abuse. He admitted that he had slapped his wife. However, he was even more concerned about his thoughts about violence toward her, particularly in relation to their five-year-old daughter. When his wife would have their daughter with her and didn’t return home on time, John would begin to fear that they wouldn’t return and that he’d never see his daughter again. No amount of reassurance from his wife seemed to allay his fears. His constant interrogation of his wife was putting an incredible strain on the marriage.

John welcomed the learning of relaxation techniques and was willing to consider regression therapy. It was within the story of another lifetime that we found the roots of his feelings of mistrust. John began his story by describing himself lying in a dirt street in an “old West town”—bleeding to death and watching a horse-drawn carriage drive away. His dying thought was, “I’ll never trust that bastard again!”

The “bastard” in that thought had been his father in that lifetime. John had been married to a woman he had adored. Unfortunately, his father adored her too. This father-son conflict ended in a gun battle in the street and John was killed. In his current lifetime John had reconnected with the spirit of his father—this time as his wife. His wife from the previous life had returned as his daughter in this life. What also returned was his fear of “losing” her.

With a new understanding of the continuity of the life force, John began to accept that there need be no loss; his ability to trust changed. It was too late to save the marriage, but this new understanding did allow a peaceful divorce.

On the spiritual level John developed more basic trust, as he grew better able to become more objective about living a lifetime in a physical body. With increased basic trust, the level of his mistrust decreased.

A Case of Autonomy vs. Shame & Doubt

Our awareness of our existence begins to assert itself actively as we approach age two—the “terrible twos.” As any parent can testify, this is a time when a child has learned the power of the word “NO.” A parental request is unimportant when a two-year-old has the power of the word “no” to establish a sense of autonomy. As one of my clients put it, “At age two a child discovers he is really out of the womb and on his own.”

When Sandra’s family first came to see me, they had arrived feeling hurt and confused by Sandra’s attitude and behavior. Sixteen-year-old Sandra, resentful of all rules, wanted to stay out all night and had frequently climbed out the bedroom window at night after everyone was asleep. Her anger at her parents, grandparents, and her younger brother surged forth in her tone of voice and rejection of their concern.

Following an extensive history-gathering and seeing each of the family members in individual sessions in addition to family sessions, I too, was confused. This family just didn’t fit the dysfunctional pattern. The parents maintained reasonable expectations, expressed genuine love and concern about Sandra, and were willing to compromise on the rules. Sandra seemed unable to understand her behavior and acknowledge her family’s love for her.

When I suggested that we “try an experiment,” everyone agreed. They had all grown weary of the tension within the family. Sandra expressed the usual adolescent curiosity about hypnosis and was eager to give it a try. Following induction, Sandra was instructed to “move to whatever time and space that contained the information about the cause of the current upset” with her family. Sandra’s face became very peaceful and her voice was gentle and strong. She described herself as a member of a very spiritual group. Within this group she was considered a leader whose spiritual radiance was cherished by all.

Suddenly a startled look crossed her face and her voice took on an edge of fear. Her family was being attacked and would surely be killed if she didn’t take action. Should she take action—perhaps kill—or leave her family to be subjected to brutality and death? She decided to kill, knowing that this decision would move her “many steps back in my spiritual path.” Now, hundreds of years later, she had again joined with this family she had chosen to defend—this time as their daughter, sister, and grandchild AND SHE WAS RESENTFUL! She had made a supreme sacrifice so they could live, and it was a choice she wasn’t certain she would make again.

In the next session the higher self was brought in to discuss the “forgotten” aspects of free will. Sandra’s higher self reminded her that SHE had made the decision to murder…that she had indeed weighed the consequences carefully and deliberately. Higher self reminded Sandra that her shame was further impeding her spiritual development.

In the following sessions Sandra reported that she found herself feeling differently toward her family. The family confirmed that things had definitely changed for the better.

Shame vs. autonomy had locked Sandra into a personal struggle that carried from one lifetime to another. Using her higher self to release her from the shame, Sandra was freed of “blaming” her family and could fully recognize the independence of her decision.

A Case of Initiative vs. Guilt

As a child approaches the three- to six- or seven-year range, the child begins to explore its world in a more social way. This is a time during childhood when the individual learns to possess and to share. A key word in this stage is “mind.”

When Bob and Ann came to see me they were experiencing difficulties in their marriage which, up until the previous year, had been “almost perfect.” Both of them were unable to pinpoint what had happened to change their relationship. Their complaints seemed petty and insignificant when compared to the eight years of solid relationship they both reported.

In the third session I discovered that the relationship had begun to change after Ann had been raped by a neighbor. A year had elapsed since the attack. Through the next couple of months Bob and Ann were seen in individual and joint sessions to determine the amount of unresolved trauma from the attack. Ann seemed to have made a reasonable recovery. It was Bob who still suffered. He was obsessed by thoughts of revenge. He often left work early or called in ill, in order to drive to the place where the attacker now lived (some 50 miles away). Bob would sit in his car fantasizing torture and murder. These obsessive thoughts and compulsive behaviors terrified Bob. He recognized that these thoughts and behaviors were entirely out of proportion to the situation.

Bob was desperate and willing to try regression therapy, despite his religious beliefs that questioned the validity and use of hypnosis, let alone the idea of past lives. During the session that followed, Bob kept saying, “I don’t believe this is happening.” Bob moved easily into a life time as a young farmer in the 1800’s. In that life he and his wife were surprised one day by a band of renegades. The renegades raped and killed Bob’s wife while he watched, helplessly tied to a post in the barn. It took him several days to free himself, since he had been left to die of starvation. He spent the next few years trying to track down his wife’s killers, but without success. Eventually he remarried, fathered a family, and died an old man—never having gotten the revenge he pledged during the traumatic event.

Bob seemed surprised when I asked what more he could have done. Guilt had blinded him to the facts of the situation. In that lifetime he had been overpowered by eight men who had knocked him unconscious and bound him completely. Recognizing the helplessness of that situation, he was able to see that his guilt really began when he started a new life for himself—putting the tragedy behind him and living a very full and happy life.

Bob was even more surprised at his own response to my question, “Was there anyone in that lifetime who has existed in your current life?”

“Yes,” he said. My wife who was killed then is my wife now.” This session ended the obsessive thoughts and compulsive behavior.

Initiative refers to the natural curiosity and desire to learn. Guilt impedes one’s curiosity and ability to explore life: It’s not unusual that Bob would choose a religion in this lifetime that would reinforce his tendency toward feeling guilty. In the several years that have passed since our work together, I have seen Bob several times on a social basis. He has begun to explore a variety of creative hobbies and has considered changing his profession and starting a business of his own.

A Case of Identity vs. Role Confusion

Adolescence is a time of seeking ourselves—not as a son or daughter, brother or sister, student—but as a person with separate opinions, ideas and personality, who must assume full responsibility for self.

Jill was absolutely determined to separate from Dan, although she professed to love him dearly. “I just have to get out on my own and discover who I am.” Dan was willing to work with any plan if she just wouldn’t leave. After all, they had been married for 14 years and had known each other since grade school. “I don’t know why,” Jill said, “I just have to be on my own—at least for a while.”

Jill and Dan agreed to be regressed simultaneously. Jill began to describe a dark wood paneled room with heavy drapes—a musty, closed room with an oppressive atmosphere. In response to my request, she looked around the room and found a newspaper on a nearby table. The newspaper was a Philadelphia paper and the date was 1869. As Jill became more accustomed to this environment she began to describe her life. Her mother had died when she was young. Her father had come to depend upon her for companionship as well as to care for their home. When she was in her mid-twenties, she had become engaged; but just before the wedding her father had a heart attack. He remained somewhat incapacitated long enough for the engagement to be terminated. Each time Jill (in that lifetime) came close to emancipating herself, her father would become “ill.” Finally, in her mid-thirties, she gave up trying to be on her own. She cared for her father until his death. The remainder of her life she lived as a recluse. She identified her father from that lifetime as her husband, Dan, in this life.

Dan was quiet during the session. He reported seeing flashes of the scenes as Jill described them but was unaware of detail. He didn’t know what to make of the events that Jill had described.

Interestingly, this regression seemed to enforce Jill’s desire to emancipate herself from the marriage. She and Dan continued to be friendly toward each other. Several years later Dan told me he knows she still loves him, but just seems to have this driving need to be on her own.

Finding one’s own identity is the process which prepares one to leave the family and join the larger family of the world. If this stage is interrupted, a person experiences a sense of incompleteness. Jill sought to complete that stage of development—even though it extended into another lifetime.


These cases have been a sample of the karmic connections within a family setting. These are also cases of persons who took their connections with their families very seriously. Yet somewhere within us all is the knowledge contained in the following quote from There’s No Such Place As Far Away by Richard Bach:

You have no birthday because you have always lived: you were never born, and never will you die. You are not the child of the people you call mother and father, but their fellow-adventurer on a bright journey to understand the things that are.



Bowen, Murray. Family Therapy in Clinical Practice. New York: Jason Aronson, 1978.

Erikson, Erik. Childhood and Society. New York: W.W. Norton, 1963.

Erikson, Erik. Identity and the Life Cycle. New York: International Universities Press, 1959.

Erikson, Erik. Identity: Youth and Crisis. New York: W. W. Norton, 1968.

Erikson, Erik. Insight and Responsibility New York: W. W. Norton, 1964.

Minuchin, Salvador. Families and Family Therapy. Cambridge: Harvard U. Press, 1974.

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Topics on this article

Family Relationships, Karmic Patterns

Keywords on this article

guilt, role confusion, shame, spiritual stages of development, trust vs mistrust