What does the word “family” mean to you? Does it bring up memories and images of warmth, security, caring and nurturing, or is it sometimes a little more like being sucked into a rabbit hole backwards? Dr. Dain Heer jokingly created an acronym for family: F—ed up and mainly interested in limiting you!
Instead of being a restful safe haven, a place of nurturing and nourishment, many people experience their families as abusive and disempowering environments filled with blame, shame, should, oughts, trauma/drama, expectations and projections, with little to no acknowledgement of them as a unique being. That this is covert rather than overt only adds to the sense of insanity.
As a child, you may have experienced your joy, curiosity, enthusiasm, talents, and abilities as being perceived by your family as too much, too loud, an annoyance, or even a threat. You may have been hypersensitive and overwhelmed by all you were perceiving, so you began to shut off and shut down who you actually were, often taking on roles and behaviours that were deemed acceptable and kept you safe from the judgments and criticism. These false roles and behaviours become associated with being with your family and tend to get activated anytime you go “home”.
So even though you may be 25, or 35, or 60, as soon as you cross the family threshold, or sit down at the dinner table, or even have a phone conversation with mom or dad or the grandma, it activates the time when you were 3, or
6, or 14 and were shamed or decided you didn’t fit or whatever it was for you, and you seek an escape into the “not you”. This is the place where you are required pretend that everything is fine, ignoring the meanness of Aunt Sally or the drunkenness of Uncle Bob, and the message is still: YOU ARE WRONG IF YOU SPEAK THE TRUTH. It’s totally crazy making. Please remember, just because you FEEL CRAZY – doesn’t mean you actually are!
This is all further compounded by the pressure of family and society to put being loyal and supporting your family ahead of anything that’s happening in your life. If a family member has a problem, big or small, You are expected to be there, put your life on hold, and ignore the lunacy of it all.
The good news is that there are some practical tools and strategies that you can use to change all of this. Remember, you can’t change your family, but you can certainly change you.
1. What if you were to begin to acknowledge that the supposed “wrongness” of you is not real but comes from having bought other’s opinions or having drawn inaccurate conclusions about what events meant. All judgments are arbitrary, and many of us were judged when we were children in order to make us controllable. For example, if you were very curious and active as a child, you may have been censored simply because your parents didn’t know how to deal with you, or simply didn’t care to deal with that level of creativity. What if you acknowledged how amazingly curious, active and creative you are and how much that actually contributes to the world? As children, we think of our parents as gods, as knowing more than we do, but this is rarely the case. As Gary Douglas says: What if every “wrongness” is a strongness?
2. How many hats are you wearing? If you were to acknowledge all the family roles you are playing, and make a commitment to yourself to either play them with awareness, if that will create more for you, or to not play them despite the pull to do so, what would that create? In either case you will be demonstrating to yourself that you do not need to value your family’s realities and insanities more than what you know to be true for you. This is part of caring and honouring you. Will there be pressure to change back into the old controllable you? Absolutely! What if you can be aware of that for what it is, and not make it significant? You can use the tool: ‘Interesting point of view I have this point of view’. If you are willing to be you without going into aligning and agreeing or resisting or reacting, you will create a space for yourself and a choice for others to move beyond what has been into a space of new possibilities.
3. Ask questions! As Gary Douglas, the Founder of Access Consciousness, says: There are no stupid questions, only stupid people who don’t ask questions! Most families rely on fixed answers, assumptions, conclusions and decisions and actually discourage questions. Even if your family is not open to your questions, can you create a different space for yourself with your family if you are willing be in the question with yourself? Some useful ones are: Is this working for me? If not, what can I be or do different to change this? Am I in the computation of my life right now? Am I buying into old roles and expectations? Am I making someone else’s reality greater than mine? If so, what else is possible? What would be honouring of me? Am I putting family loyalty ahead of me? What is the value of doing that? What other choices do I have? All of these, and they are just a small sample, can assist you in staying out of the madness.
4. Remember that you have choice. Families tend to create a place of seemingly no choice but that is a lie. Just because you’ve spent two weeks every holiday season with them for the past twenty years, doesn’t mean you can’t choose to make a three-day visit instead if that will work better for you. Have you ever noticed that when you do what works for you it also works better for everyone else involved? In other words, do what works for you and by so doing you will be including everyone you care about in the computation without trying to make it only about them and excluding yourself.
Despite what we’ve been led to believe, our families do not have to control us or our lives. If you had a caring and supportive family, that’s wonderful! If you did not, you can still take the actions to care and honour you and your life and the people who are related to you by knowing that choice, questions, possibilities and contribution are the stepping stones to creating a different reality.