If you come from a dysfunctional family, you know very well that it is never easy to cope with. Familial conflicts have the power to debilitate you. They can drain your physical and emotional energy, leaving you frazzled.
Oftentimes, your intentions may be good, but you end up in a muddle of misunderstandings. Your words and actions may get misinterpreted. And assertion being misconceived as rudeness by your family certainly doesn’t help.
“How ironic that our family should be a safe haven. Our parents and siblings are supposed to love us, accept us, and care for us. They should protect us and support us. Sometimes, our home is where we find the deepest heartaches.”
― Dana Arcuri
When you approach your issues as a dysfunctional family, you feel like you’re treading through a minefield. You want to put yourself first and conserve your energy. And at the same time, you want to avoid hurting anyone’s feelings.
Here are 6 ways you can cope with your dysfunctional family genuinely and respectfully.
1. Identify your emotional needs
The first step is to recognize what you need. The more time you spend among your family members, the more you tend to question if you even deserve respect. Remind yourself often that you do.
You absolutely have the right to feel safe and secure. You may love your family, but it’s important to think about what behavior is acceptable to you. Your right to be respected should not be violated.
For example, if your father perpetually criticizes your career choices, you do have the right to assert yourself. You can tell him that you love what you do and that you are proud of it, regardless of what anybody else thinks.
2. Set firm boundaries
Know where to draw the line and let someone know when they cross it. Asserting yourself does not make you rude or aggressive. You can be loving and patient even while being firm with your boundaries.
For example, a family member may invite you to do something that you find exhausting. Not because of the task itself, but perhaps because they tend to be overly critical of you while doing it. You may end up finding this activity grueling and want to get out of it without hurting their feelings.
Remember that you do not have to be subject to such scrutiny or negativity. State your boundaries to them clearly. If this is about your mother pushing you to go shopping with her, you could say “I love spending time with you, Mom, but I feel like shopping together is just too stressful. Can we watch a movie or get some lunch instead?”
Once you establish your boundaries, try changing the subject. This lets the other person know that your boundaries are not negotiable. And it also reassures them that you are not angry with them.
3. Don’t give what you get
When a family member is being unnecessarily rude, it may be tempting to dish out similar behavior. But spewing hateful or snarky comments is in no way going to help your situation. Not only is it going to make your circumstance worse, but it is also going to make you feel guilty later.
Train your mind to view others’ bad behavior and your treatment of them as two separate things. Don’t let their behavior influence the way you view and deal with them.
There are times when a conflict arises even when you’re doing your best to avoid it respectfully. In such cases when your family isn’t responding well, it is okay to walk away.
You can sense when someone is trying to force an argument despite your attempts to deflate the situation. At this point, you can choose to leave the situation before it blows up even further. Let them know that you feel the conversation isn’t going anywhere and that you are going to take a walk.
4. Learn to express your emotions
It’s okay to feel anger and frustration in the face of unfair ordeals. It is much healthier to allow yourself to feel angry rather than burying those feelings forcefully.
When you are not to blame for causing a problem, you do not have to feel responsible for it. It is not on you to fix problems with forgiveness.
This does not mean you shouldn’t forgive them. Just don’t feel pressure to forgive immediately. It is natural and healthy to process your emotions first.
When you’ve grown up with a dysfunctional family, it can be quite challenging to express your emotions properly. Here are a few productive ways to vent and deal with your feelings.
- Talk to your close friends or try finding support groups. You may relate to and learn from other people’s experiences, as they may from yours.
- Write a letter to the family member you had an argument with, and then burn it.
- Seek therapy and professional help near you. The infuriating drama in a dysfunctional family is quite heavy stuff. Know when to reach out to therapists or counselors to talk about it. Depending on your needs and location, there are free platforms and counseling options to choose from today.
5. Don’t let a problem situation escalate
It can be frustrating to make sure that your family members get along, but at times, it becomes inevitable. Listen during your conversations and understand when it’s time to change the topic.
By now, you would know the topics that trigger conflicts in your family. For example, say your brother is indefinitely unemployed due to an addiction from which he is now recovering. Your uncle might ask him if he has applied to any jobs recently, reminding him that it has been several months. You know that this is a very sensitive topic for your brother and that he does not want to discuss it.
When such a problem topic arises, act fast. Jump in and steer the conversation away from conflict by changing the subject. What helps is noting down a list of “safe” topics that you think will be enjoyable for everyone.
6. Accept things and let go
No matter how hard you try, there are times you have to let go. You have to accept that it is not within your control to fix all your family conflicts. You may be longing for a family member to change, but you cannot do it for them.
For example, your mother may be really judgmental and insensitive. And this behavior may make it very difficult for you and your siblings to be okay around her.
You may badly want a healthier relationship with your mother. You may constantly wish she was different. You can address these issues and let her know respectfully and clearly what you feel. But ultimately, it is her responsibility to change.
In situations like these, it is best to emotionally disengage. You cannot be so invested in long-lasting conflicts over which you have no power. And while it is hard to refrain, it may be better to avoid addressing these conflicts during family events. This way, you do not have to spend the holidays fighting when you could be making great memories.
The most important thing is to remember that at the end of the day, shit happens. Things spiral out of your control, and you cannot help it. No matter what happens, remember to take care of yourself.
When you belong to a dysfunctional home, you tend to put your own well-being aside. Remember to practice basic self-care. Eat healthy and exercise often. Indulge in simple pleasures and treat yourself occasionally.
And lastly, at the risk of sounding like a pop song, do give your heart a break.
This post was previously published on Medium.com.
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