Yes, family is a group of people related by blood or marriage, but just as love is an action, family is more than blood, marriage, or shared history and whether we like to admit it or not, we all have expectations about what family looks like and entails and sometimes, the one we have or a certain member, does not fit into that, disrupting our ideals, not just for us but also for the unit.
Your family doesn’t need or have to be perfect and it’s no reflection on you if one or even a few or even all of the members are dysfunctional. Besides being your family, they’re human first and foremost, all on their own respective journeys and all grappling with their own fears, experiences, motivations, beliefs, ideas, needs, expectations etc.
Different does not mean wrong. Don’t judge you for who they’re not but also don’t burn up your life energy on who is “living right”. Acceptance does not mean agreeing with everything that a person does but it does mean not coming from a place of judgment and focusing on what you want to change about them. It also doesn’t mean ‘condoning’ or giving free passes; it just means not consuming copious amounts of emotional, mental and physical energy fighting against what you don’t like.
Whatever it is that you’re pretending not to already know about this person or the situation, is exactly what you do need to accept. It doesn’t mean something about you if a family member is _____. Being family doesn’t mean that someone else’s traits or actions infer or determine something about you.
Most of us have a tendency to assume that all family members want the same things. If you think about a company, despite initial noises, over time it becomes evident that there are people who come at the same thing from a very different angle.
Some people say that they have your best intentions at heart or that they’re doing things for the family but they lack the self-awareness to recognise how their own motivations and ego are behind their choices. There is this brilliant line in the series Breaking Bad where Skyler, Walt’s wife is becoming increasingly frightened of her husband’s behaviour and the lengths he will go to. He keeps claiming that he’s doing everything from making crystal meth, hoarding loads of illegal cash, killing people etc, for the family and it’s all to protect them and she says, “Someone has to protect this family from the man who protects this family”.
If help, protection, care etc feels oppressive and as if you have no choice about what that person is giving and doing to you, it’s not help, protection, care etc– it’s bad boundaries where guilt and even an element of control is being used to activate your conscience. It’s not about it coming from a ‘bad place’ necessarily as some people are not aware of their communication style and habits but, it is about recognising that it’s not so much what you do but why you do it. As you cannot control their motivations, you have to get in command of you by knowing your boundaries and making sure that you’re not doing stuff for the wrong reasons.
Yes, it’s nice to visit family, hang out, do favours or whatever but again, if you’re doing these things for approval, validation, an expectation that they’ll change or recognise something, you’re doing it for the wrong reasons. If you would not be or do whatever it is if you did not think that you would get whatever it is that you’re hoping for back, revise your motivations, be upfront wife them or don’t do it. Hidden agendas only lead to problems and enter people into contracts that they haven’t agreed to.
You’re a grown-up so you don’t need to be doing things from a place of obedience anymore, especially blind obedience.
Each time you respond based on the past, or on the definition of the relationship, or on this person being an ‘authority’ over you, you live in the past, you don’t see you or that person clearly, and you put you in to a child role. Basically, you keep you small.
Honour the separateness. Each time you look at things based on definition of the relationship – “They are my _____” – you are blinding you with preconceived general notions about what a person who is a _____ should do. Yes, you are related but don’t use rules that aren’t rules based on societal concepts and even what’s peddled in the media, to shape your actions. Each time you think for example, “Brothers must do”, you’re not seeing that person and accepting them and the reality of your relationship.
Depending on the circumstances we want the TFM to think of the team (the family) or to think of us and show their family credentials by putting themselves out for us by amending whatever the problematic behaviour is or making amends for the past. Yes, some people do do stuff from a selfish place but, what you have to be careful of is putting your expectations for you on them and expecting them to change. You see how hard it is for people to break habits they actually want to change – their has to be real personal motivation there rooted in their personal development and growth. They might do things off or the back of blame and shame whether it’s coming from them or others but it will be short-lived plus if they don’t understand why they’re doing what they’re doing (motivations) they cannot really seek to make any real change.
If you stop sheltering them from natural consequences but are also boundaried, they have the possibility of seeing themselves more clearly but without it being about doing something ‘for you’.
Dealing with a TFM on an ongoing basis comes at the price of your well-being so becoming conscious, aware and present about the impact and taking steps to limit it and protect you is crucial, not just for your familial relationship(s) but for all of them.
Unmet needs via family are often sought in other relationships – trying to fill voids and right the wrongs of the past. Getting clearer about your situation and owning your own means that you will not look for instance, for romantic partners to give you what a TFM isn’t and instead will resolve that with you.
We must honour our boundaries whether we have the other person’s cooperation or not, respectfully and with compassion. Focusing on or even blaming others for you not having boundaries by effectively not adjusting and taking care of you and instead waiting on them to change or trying to make them change or see your way, is the fastest way to ensure that nothing improves for you. Recognising your boundaries means that it doesn’t have to get to the point of eruption or despair. You feel less invaded, less imposed upon, less victimised and less drained.
It’s not that this family member couldn’t do with making a few changes but there comes a point when you have to ask why you keep (whether it’s directly or indirectly) trying to get them to change when you could accept who they are, adapt your response to limit the impact and rebalance things, and get on with the business of living.
If you’ve felt ashamed of the chaos that you may have been born into or experienced, or of abandonment, or experiencing neglect or abuse in childhood, it continuing in adulthood, or feeling unloved, misunderstood, burdened with secrets and lies, unsupported, or unsafe and unaccepted, you’re carrying the burden of other people’s feelings and behaviour. You’re defining you by virtue of something that’s limiting you and continuing to judge you. Change the narrative by retelling your story with a fresh perspective through journaling, Unsent Letters and any other support options you can.
Forgive you with healthier boundaries and self-care.
Boundaries filter out what’s unworkable whereas walls keep out both the good and not so good stuff and leave you feeling bad about yourself. Don’t punish you and others with walls. Get boundaried so that you can enjoy your relationships.
You have options. Boundaries respect both parties and allow you to come from a place of love, care, trust and respect.
Change your contribution in the dynamic and the cues and triggers that have previously existed will change which means that this person won’t get the same signals from you which means that the dynamic will naturally change.
Remember that you’re doing the best that you can with the knowledge that you have at the time. Getting clearer about TFM behaviour and issues means that you have also gotten clearer about who you are and what you want to feel and be, which means that you can make decisions from a more authentic place.
It’s a good thing to break patterns. Discomfort from change doesn’t mean that what you’re doing is wrong; it means that you’re stretching out of your uncomfortable comfort zone. Resistance from others doesn’t mean that what you’re doing is bad – they’re human and not that keen on change either but that doesn’t mean that the status quo has to continue. You’re making a choice for you but also contributing positively to the next generation – this has been pivotal for me. Breaking family history that has clouded us for several generations and choosing a different path for my daughters but also for how I show up in the world.
Whether you can continue with this family member or you decide to step back or opt out, know that you’ve done your due dilligence and are coming from a compassionate place. That matters a hell of a lot in this world.
You matter. Don’t let anyone ever tell you otherwise. You are not selfish for wanting to evolve out of this situation or for not wanting to be a robot, clone or whatever. You are allowed to have feelings, thoughts, needs, expectations and desires.
Take care of you and come from a place of love, care, trust and respect and you will be happier, more enriched, more you and that will flow out to others. Wishing you much love, light and happiness on your onward journey.
JOURNALING: So that’s it! Write about how you feel today. Look at day one and think about the journey you’ve travelled over the last 30 days. What have you learned? What are you open to being and doing now that you weren’t at the start of this process? What are the hopes that you have for you going forward?
TASK: What are the things that you need to remember about this TFM or family? Write a list so that you can refer back to it. Make sure you write down new responses to typical situations. Add to this list as necessary and look at each day initially so that you are more mindful when thinking about or dealing with them.