All family units have their strengths and their weaknesses. Just like any relationship, there is no family without its problems. Ideally, families are able to function in a way that deals with conflicts effectively. However, not all families are able to do so which can cause family members to disconnect from one another or remain close but struggle within the relationship.
Some families are so dysfunctional and unhealthy that members cut themselves off, as they should. Other times, problems exist and cause pain or aggravation for the members who would prefer to resolve the problems and remain or return to a loving family unit. The following are 3 ways that families seem to get in their own way of resolving their problems.
Holding on to grudges
And it’s so easy to do! It hurts when people who we love hurt us. It’s also hard to forget, especially when we think they don’t recognize how they hurt us, or especially if they are continuing to do so. However, truly forgiving and moving on is often one of the first ways that families can begin to heal and grow. This may not be possible or appropriate in situations that involve some form of abusive behavior, but in most other cases, it is better to accept and forgive than to hold onto pain from a past event that cannot be undone. Some choose to forgive and forget while others choose to address the issue. When addressing the issue, the best way is effective communication, which would mean a clear and honest explanation of feelings and expectations. Doing so in a loving way can be difficult to do but can move relationships in a positive direction.
Not using effective communication or behaviors
Just like in any other relationship, it is easy to get stuck using ineffective communication. Often when we are hurt or angry, we do not address the issue directly; we use other methods. People commonly use passive methods without even realizing it, such as avoiding family, making comments that are not supportive, or arguing about an issue that has nothing to do with the real problem. We get used to certain ways of dealing with conflict that do not necessarily deal with the problem, such as avoiding confrontation, exploding in anger without returning to resolve the problem, or trying to express ourselves without hearing the other person. These can be hard patterns to break, especially when they’ve been going on so long. However, life is short and there is no time like the present. Taking an honest look at your methods of communication, as well as your family members can provide a lot of great information about your relationships. Sometimes it is difficult to see things clearly within our own families, which is why family therapy can be so helpful.
Sticking with the same patterns of behavior
Unfortunately, even when patterns are negative and aren’t working for us, we still tend to remain in those same patterns. There is a term often used when thinking about family dynamics according to family systems theory; “homeostasis” is referred to as the equilibrium or baseline of the family, it is the family’s “normal.” There is a pull for families to remain at their homeostasis because it is familiar, even if members are unhealthy or unhappy. Additionally, everyone plays a role. Sometimes people play more than one, but we all have them. There is the traditional parent, child, sibling, and then also the caretaker, mediator, scapegoat, etc. Roles develop for many different reasons, but once they are in place they are difficult to shake. Taking a look at each person’s role and whether or not it is adding to the health of the family can be another way to create positive change.
The only way to change the homeostasis of the family or create positive change is for its family members to do things differently than they have been. Letting go of resentments or grudges, changing or improving communication styles, and focusing on the traditional patterns of interacting can be the beginning steps toward getting “unstuck” as a family.
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Last reviewed: 12 Oct 2013