“John, my family is ruining my life” is something a friend of mine said during a recent conversation. I encouraged him to explain what he meant (I was thinking to myself, this should be interesting). He began a “long winded rant”, highlighting the issues he had with his brother, sister, mom, deceased cousin and 93 year old grandmother. I asked him how things were going with his own wife and kids and he said, “man with all this other crap going on It doesn’t seem like I get to spend much time with them”. My friend is so heavily invested in “righting” the past that he is completely missing out on NOW. Sadly, many of us find ourselves in a similar scenario.
Family of origin, the age old dilemma…
All of us have experienced conflicts with members of our family of origin. Our goal is not to carry around so much baggage that we need to employ two bellhops! It’s draining. I work with numerous clients who are still experiencing conflicts with parents or siblings over things that took place decades ago. RELEASE IT…holding onto anger is bad for our physical and emotional health! Many of us operate under the illusion that because we are “related” we must like each other. The key word here is RELATE. In other words, if we don’t RELATE to someone (even family) it is perfectly normal to have minimal contact with them. Ask yourself this question…is the family member I have a challenge with the type of person I would desire to spend time with if we were not related? The answer is probably NO. Many of us feel “obligated” to spend time with family members who treat us poorly because “after all, they’re family”. This is a very misguided belief. I believe we should treat everyone with dignity and respect and we should expect the same in return. Relationships are a two way street. Many of us are still desperately seeking approval from our parents and siblings. We desire to prove to them once and for all that we are someone of value and importance. I routinely ask clients..”so how is that going for you?” People can change but most won’t because true change requires a significant commitment to personal growth as well as a dramatic shift in perspective.
Extended Family is a good thing…
I grew up an only child. My closest relatives lived 2500 miles away which meant I only saw them every few years. I was well aware of the “family feud” between my father and his younger brother which stemmed from what my uncle determined to be my fathers “misguided decision” to move “out west”. My mother and grandmother also routinely bickered back and forth regarding my mothers “hidden agenda” which ultimately “tore the family a part”. In reality, my parents received a great job offer in Colorado and chose to take it. Their decision obviously made my fathers family of origin very uncomfortable. The drama between my uncle and my father was never resolved and both men died without saying a proper goodbye. I am glad we moved “out west” as I fear I might have lost my mind “back east”.
Due in large part to the dysfunction within my own family of origin, my extended family has always had a profound influence in my life. Over the years I have enjoyed numerous brotherly and sisterly type relationships and I have sought advice and mentoring from a variety of older, wiser, friends. We don’t get to choose our family of origin but we do get to choose who we include in our extended family. With that being said, I always encourage my friends and clients to keep things in perspective and strive to work through and let go of past hurts or disappointments that may be keeping them from enjoying a healthier relationship with their family of origin. At the same time I encourage them to also cultivate, embrace and enjoy their extended family relationships.
Some tips for creating a healthier relationship with our family of origin…
*Focus on YOU! When we focus on becoming better, faster and stronger we leave very little time for trivial pursuits. When we find ourselves angry or upset with a member of our family of origin it is a clear sign that we need to get back to work on ourselves. When we surround ourselves with positive, uplifting people, we are able to insulate ourselves from mindless, baseless, drama. WHERE OUR FOCUS GOES, OUR ENERGY FLOWS!
*Prioritize what is important and don’t apologize for it. When a member of our family of origin DEMANDS our attention or time we can politely say NO. When any type family of origin drama begins interfering with our PRESENT responsibilities it is important to stand our ground and remain secure in our personal power. Remember, WE PROBLEM SOLVE FROM THE PAST, WE CREATE IN THE PRESENT!
*Establish healthy boundaries. We teach people how to treat us. Just because someone is “family” doesn’t mean we have to accept ill treatment or abuse. GUILT is an instrument that is often used to control people and situations. When we fail to establish boundaries we are effectively telling the other person that it is acceptable to walk all over us and THEY WILL! Boundaries establish the ground rules of how we expect to be treated NOW and in the FUTURE. We should never feel guilty about respecting ourselves enough to establish healthy boundaries.
Our family of origin can only “ruin our life” if we allow it! We get to CHOOSE how we desire to be in relationship with them or if we choose to be in relationship at all. This is a very empowering way to live our lives and yet at first it can feel uncomfortable. If you are struggling with a family of origin relationship I encourage you to begin taking the steps above as they will help you distance yourself from the drama.
As always I look forward to your thoughts and feedback.