Hello dear Family Mental Health readers. Due to an inclusion in an Everyday Health newsletter, my blog post “Can You Step Away From a Hurtful Family Relationship?” post got a tremendous response. If you are now a new reader because you saw that post and have come back for more, “Welcome.” Stay a while and take a look around the blog.
First, WOW. So many of you are enduring very difficult family dynamics. Mean behavior, family favoritism, verbal and physical abuse, legal issues, flat-out crappy petty behavior, and more. My heart goes out to you who are either working your lives around that or have maybe decided you’ve had enough and backed off. That’s a lot of stress and pain to put up with.
Another topic that struck me was about being there for family. A few people also brought up unconditional love. I like somebody’s response that made the distinction between your loving feeling toward that person and your tolerance of awful treatment. You could feel love out of sentiment that they were your child, mother, or whomever, but it didn’t mean you needed to become a martyr for them. You didn’t need to subject yourself to constant punishment just because you shared blood ties with them.
I think this is an important point. Yes, in many ways, family is there to be a safety net, a group of people you could count on for support because you shared a history and connection. And in an ideal world, unconditional love and an incredible amount of patience would be present between all family members. I mean it. Acceptance, a soothing presence, demonstration of affection – these would go a long way towards creating safe havens for everyone.
Being loving, considerate, responsible, selfless, courteous, respectful is generally learned behavior. If the family isn’t capable of teaching all that, chances are good that each generation will have lots of problems. There are some stand-out people that make it through a difficult family and still turn out well. But many don’t, and they haven’t the foggiest clue how to have a joyful satisfying life.
If you have a toxic destructive family member and you feel badly that they are alone, understand that to some degree they have earned that. If you are feeling sad and compassionate for them, a quick visit or phone call once in a while is fine. But you don’t have to be at their beck and call or listen to lengthy rants about worthless you are.
What gets people into trouble is that they hold on to expectations that their cruel father or their spiteful sister will someday be filled with peace, understanding, and benevolence. I saw that some of you had realized what your faulty expectations were doing to you. When you let them go, many of you found relief. However, some of you struggled with the thought of being alone if you cut people off. That has made the
prospect of separating much more difficult.
Learning how to truly accept the truth can be so hard. But it is often the way people can finally achieve a balance with their difficult family members. Accept that your bitter resentful mother will never be a warm accepting “Mom”. Accept that your son has decided to be a brat to everyone and he will have to come out of
it on his own. Accept that your Dad has talked trash about you to your sister for years, and she may never know you as you really are.
Thank you all so much for sharing with each other, giving support, and telling your stories. I hope that everyone who reads that post and the comments comes away with something helpful.