You’ve all heard the saying, meaning that family ties are to be the most prized and highly revered in our life, simply by means of their being family. Regardless of the character or emotional health of these people, regardless of however they might treat us on a regular basis, that merely by their being blood relations, they are meant to come above anyone else in one’s life.
I am going to push back on and flat out disagree with that ideology. Instead of such a blind and blanketed statement, I would offer: it very much depends.
For some, family is highly revered and of utmost priority for good reason. Assuming one’s family members are kind-hearted, good people who treat their loved ones healthfully, with respect, genuine love, and support.
For many though, this isn’t the case. There are a wide sweeping number of people who have family that is: manipulative, deceitful, aggressive, bullying, abusive, toxic, the perpetual victim (aka kings/queens of guilt-tripping their children into what they want), rageful, depressive, incredibly emotionally unhealthy, you name it. The list of possible dangerous/harmful traits is not limited.
For people who have family members fitting the above, in order to live a life of utmost emotional health and wellbeing, it’s unlikely that these connections should be those they hold closest. Instead, these are people who, family or not, should be kept at either a significant distance, or potentially not in their family member’s life at all.
To clarify: many of us can and do love relatives and family who aren’t especially great for us, and often, this is ok (though it will require having strong boundaries with said family member. To be adjusted and determined by you, depending on how damaging/harmful said family member is).
Just because someone is emotionally unhealthy or even at times, harmful, does not necessarily mean you cannot have them in your life, and even be close to them. You can, with a clear awareness of such and thus, strong boundaries and mental protections in place. Along with being aware that this family member is frequently not going to act in ways that are healthy or good for you (and when such does happen, putting up strong lines between yourself and this person accordingly).
For some people though, as heartbreaking as this is, the above logic does not apply. For some, it may very well be that their lives are better for not having a particular family member in their life.
We live in a culture that, by nature of someone being a “parent” or “sibling,” or nearly any blood relative, this automatically makes it inconceivable to not have this person in your life. That to do so is deemed a major abnormality and even one inducing blame and guilt. One that “must” indicate a glaring flaw within the person who decided such.
This is an inaccurate mindset and at worst, a damaging one to believe. There will be people in our lives, and yes this can be family- a parent, sibling, cousin, other relative, you name it, who may be outright bad for us. That is the painful, hard truth.
To not realize, acknowledge, face, or accept this means instead, to continue engaging oneself in an unhealthy and potentially even harmful, soul-diminishing relationship.
It is simply not true that one should keep a person in their life purely by means of their being family. Not if this person brings you emotional/mental/spiritual or physical harm. Not if this person causes continual drama, trauma, and significant stress in your life.
We live in a culture that guilts us regarding family. That we should ever forgive our parents, that we should be able to “make it work” with them, that you “don’t just cut off your relations.” I mean heck, “they’re family!”
There is a very negative connotation with and thought process toward people faced in making this incredibly difficult decision, and it’s a deeply damaging one. Pressing down upon those who are faced with such a heartbreaking choice into feelings such as guilt, shame, and as though they are “bad” or wrong for choosing to rid themselves of this toxic or harmful person, who happens to be a family member (of which they had no control nor choice over).
We cannot choose to whom we are born or related. We can choose though, with whom we maintain close connections, and we should do so with care. To stay in a harmful relationship out of guilt or shame because this person “is family” and that’s what one “should” do can be and often is a very harmful thing. We need more support, and far less judgment, for people who are faced with this searing actuality.
Family is not necessarily the blood that runs in your veins. That is part of it. Much more so though, family are the people who help you feel loved, consistently and regularly. They are those who truly support you (not just feign it, while secretly trying to undermine or push you in their direction of agenda). They are the people who genuinely want the best for you, your greatest cheerleaders and most riveted listeners. Those that are fun to be around and who uplift you. The ones who are actually there for you, emotionally and literally, in times of need.
These people are your family. Some of them will be blood relations. Others will not.
If someone carries the title of “father,” “mother,” “sibling,” “uncle,” you name it, but they are unsupportive, absent, consistently dismissive, abusive, manipulative, bullying, cruel, untrustworthy, etc. That title? It’s just a word, and a hollow one at that. It’s not a word embodied by any substance or truth. Instead, akin to something of a cardboard cutout, fake, a stand-in for a title that’s otherwise empty.
For many, a close friend or romantic partner is more family than several of an individual’s blood relations are, or have ever been. For a lot of people, their closest friends are their family. Their romantic partner becomes their family. And for many, these chosen family (close friendship, romantic partner, etc) are more loving, supportive, healthier, and better for them than their blood relations are.
This should be considered a wonderful and beautiful thing. A cause for celebration and sign of grace from the universe, that someone who was dealt the hand of a harmful family is then gifted with friends or romantic partners who make up for this deficit.
If one is dealt the hand of an abusive, toxic, or harmful family, it should be interpreted as an awesome blessing, as well as a decision and disposition of incredible bravery, strength, and insightful intelligence, this person then exercising the careful choosing of people to surround themselves with who are truly healthy and good.
For many, family is a positive, supportive, heartwarming, life-affirming thing. Significant numbers of people have family members that are kind-hearted, fantastic characters. For the people whose families are like this, they are blessed.
Then for another group of people, they may have a handful of family members like this, with a few thrown in the mix who are not so great.
And then, for another sweeping number of people, many of their family members are downright awful. This is an incredibly sad thing. However, the only way for one to pursue and create healthy relationships in their life is to recognize and face this difficult truth, if it’s one that happens to be true for them. And then to adjust their life and relations with this person accordingly. (All of which is relative to and dependent on the nature of how emotionally unhealthy and/or harmful said family member is).
The most crucial part of this realization and facing such though? Having a supportive cultural script for people who must contend with this crushing dilemma and loss. Not one of guilt, shaming, blaming, or judgment. Instead, a cultural response and attitude of empathy, openness, warmth, and support.
We need to understand that for many, blood is not thicker than water. And that the people who acknowledge, bravely face, and act accordingly with this reality are courageous, insightful, and emotionally healthy.
Family isn’t “everything” when one’s family are not good for/to them. For many, they are better off, happier, healthier, and safer, without these family members in their lives. For these people, their family will be chosen instead of blood-related. For a wide sweeping range of people, family may not be those to whom they were born.
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