As a family therapist I see families who are often torn apart by family arguments of two or more particular relatives. It may even be a couple of members in a family who work in co-ordination to disadvantage or demean other members of the family by bullying or feeding family arguments.
Well, you can indeed choose your friends but not the families you are born into. While you may have some affinity to certain members of your family you might have very little in common with others. There may even be members of your family you find so difficult to deal with that you have no contact with them whatsoever.
- Does your family argue a lot?
- Are there members of your family who you have absolutely nothing in common with?
- Do you feel ganged up on by some family members?
- Have you been hurt by members of your family?
- Is spending time with your family really painful?
- Have you cut off contact with your family?
A family is a tribe related by blood. In fact the very word ‘family’ is derived from the logistic root to be of the same blood.
This does not, however, guarantee that people of the same blood will think or act the same. What we know from studying family interactions is that it is generally the way the parents form the family that influences how the children will interact with each other, and the influences go all the way through the family structure back to grandparents.
If the adult behaviour is sociable, positive, kind and respectful to each other, the child learns from their behaviour.
When parents instil in their children respectful behaviour and listen to other family members, this will foster bonds, and family members are more likely to get on together.
This is not just about guidelines on how family members need to interact but also about the rules that the adults set down for interfamily communication.
So what if your family never had good communication rules and guidelines?
As an adult you have the absolute free choice on how you interact with other human beings.
Not only can you choose whether or not to communicate with certain people in your family but you can also choose how to communicate with them.
If you come from a family that argued, bullied or was violent, then perhaps it is time for you personally to improve your own communication skills. You may even find a professional to help you learn those skills.
You have a clear choice of remaining a victim to the past dysfunction of your family or becoming a clear and skilled communicator yourself so that you steer your personal communications in a positive direction.
Here are some practical strategies you can implement:
- Make it clear to family members that communications need to be respectful.
- When those communications become heated and argumentative, say that you would like to come back to that communication when tempers have cooled down and everyone can restore positive, respectful communication.
- Remember, families are connected by emotional bonds, not logic; however, good communication needs to follow logical rules.
- Do not play the blame game of accusing others of being wrong and being drawn into a negative vortex of power wars.
- Speak quietly, kindly and demonstrate that you are listening to what others are saying.
- Focus on being a positive, happy communicator, leaving other members with the impression that it was nice to spend time with you.
Do you need some help on how to communicate with difficult family members? Call my office on 02 8021 6429 to book an appointment.
Dr Tracie O’Keefe DCH, BHSc, ND, Clinical Hypnotherapist, Psychotherapist. Counsellor, PACFA registered Mental Health Professional and Naturopath In Sydney. You can get help by booking an appointment with her at Australian Health & Education Centre.