How To Survive Your Messed Up Family
Families, they sure are hard work. When I was younger I thought my family was relatively normal until I got older and realized there's something really dysfunctional about an only child of two only children. But remember ... no family is perfect.
I have never met a teenager who hasn’t come out of their childhood unscathed in some way. Though I did meet one kid once who was extremely well spoken, happy and confident, I found out his parents were both psychologists and very good ones at that. He was the rare exception I promise you.
Many people hope that once they leave their family and childhood behind, all their problems will disappear. What they end up finding is similar problems, as well as similar feelings and relationships patterns in their adulthood. It’s almost like we are subconsciously trying to right the wrongs of our childhood by seeking out others who remind us of our caregivers. Or we just keep dragging it along with us wherever we go.
The ultimate goal is to move through your family issues and survive your family in one piece.
Study and research your parent’s background
Look into how your parents were raised, find out what they had to go through within their own families. This information can give you a lot more understanding as to why your parents behave the way they do, and it can open you up towards being more forgiving and accepting of them. It can also give you clues and pointers as to on how you can interact with them better. Remember, no one can give from empty pockets.
Quit the blame game
Yes your family is a bunch whack-jobs, your dad caused your depression, your mom broke down your self esteem and you would dearly like them all to pay for their sins. I get you're angry and hurt ... but blaming them is not going to help you. Same goes for the in-laws family members.
You have a choice – you can either continue blaming them for the rest of your life and never undue the damage caused, OR you can take responsibility of your own feelings and start making your own changes.
I’m not going to say you don’t have a right to be angry, you have every right to but ... eventually you need to move past the anger so you can heal and move forward otherwise you are going to remain stuck in your anger forever.
Accept that your parents can only do the best they can with what they have learned. Again ... empty pockets. As you get older you start to realize how human your parents really are. You stop seeing them as your mom or dad, and instead you start seeing their flaws, their weaknesses and their vulnerabilities.
You realize that your mom and dad could only parent you by what they had learned from their own parents ... what they had in their pockets. For example if your grandfather was emotionally distant towards your father while he was growing up then it’s likely your father may also be emotionally distant or maybe he has developed a different behavior pattern to compensate.
Put it this way you can’t get angry at an animal for not understanding how to be a better pet. They only know what they have learned from their own kind and what they are biologically capable of. Your parents could grow and learn if they wanted to but that it has to come from them. And, it's probably NOT going to happen.
Do not try and change your family
I know it’s tempting, I know you would like to beat change into your parent’s or in-law's ... but it’s not going to happen. The only person you can change in your family is yourself, and how you decide to interact with each of your family members ... or not interact.
By trying to change your family you will only be creating more pain and suffering for yourself. Let go of that need to control, and accept that you are the only one who can change things for yourself. They may or may not decide to change, but it’s not for you to decide or try force it on them. You're on your journey, and they are on theirs. Respect each others maps.
Meet your family where they are
As I said you cannot change your family but you can meet them where they are. This means knowing your parents, in-law's, siblings, etc. limitations, accepting it and meeting them where they are able to meet you.
Let’s use the example of emotionally distant parents, if you consistently try talk about your emotions with them then you are just going to become angry, sad and frustrated with them all the time. So don't.
Instead learn to accept that this is where they are, they cannot go any further. So find safe topics – does your mom like to cook, garden or go walking? Talk to her about it, engage with her, even help her out in the garden. Yeah I know, it all seems backwards but you're the one who's going to have to get over it. They're fine and perfectly comfortable in their ignorant slumber.
Have clear boundaries
Know where your boundaries are in regards to your parents and all family members. Boundaries are guidelines, limits or rules a person creates in order to establish safe, reasonable ways for other people to behave or interact around them and how you might respond if someone crosses a certain boundary. I have a friend who has a very overbearing mother who demands attention and the right to walk all over my friend.
My friend learned to say no. So if her mother got angry and abusive, my friend would end the call by saying ‘mom I love you, but I am going to end the call now’ or if it was out in public my friend would always have an exit plan ready so she was never trapped, she would simply get up and leave, if her mother became verbally abusive.
My friend had clear boundaries that sent a strong message of ‘I do not tolerate this behavior’ ‘I do not allow people to treat me in this way’. Her mother has learned that if she is abusive, she will not get to spend time with her daughter.
Mourn, grieve and make peace
It’s okay to feel sad and to grieve the loss of how you would have liked your parent’s or family to be. Grieving can lead you towards peace and acceptance. You might not have gotten the love you needed, you may not have felt loved at all but bottling that up is not going to help you. Its important you express your grief through writing, artwork, counseling or by talking to good friends.
An important note to add is that when you start making your own changes you will alert your family members to it. They will be able to pick up on the ‘change’ and it may freak them out. Keep going.
They might test you and try to get you to change back to how you were before. Don’t be fooled, keep making your own changes regardless of what they try throw at you, eventually they will start accepting it but initially it will make them feel anxious.
You may notice that after some time ... they'll start responding to you differently, maybe more positively ... and that’s when you know you have graduated and survived your messed up family.
Remember ... distance, and boundaries. Drop the anger ... it will only feed the dog's hunger.
Just a thought ...
~Justin Taylor, ORDM., OCP., DM.
My thanks to Rebel Youth NZ.