By Dr. Nancy Buck
There may not be anything more painful than being a member of a family that squabbles, bickers, and argues. Is this what your family is like? Is this what the family you grew up in was like? If it is then you know how tense, anxious and sad you felt or feel now. Anticipating family reunions whether that is for holiday gatherings or just a daily occurrence, is not need fulfilling at all!
Your sense of isolation may be intense, even though you are present. You know you belong, but you wish you didn’t. Are these the people to help you feel proud and good about yourself and your family?
You may feel powerless to change these unhappy relationships between family members. And you feel angry and frustrated because you can’t.
Being in this family is not fun, not filled with joy, wonder or awe except maybe in the negative. Perhaps you are able to feel free, by choosing to spend less and less time with these people. But if you are a child, there is not escape. There is not sense of safety and security either.
You are not doomed, without any hope for mental health and happiness. You can change your mental health habits leading to improved happiness even in this kind of a family. It is hard and it is impossible.
Here’s how you can change yourself, the only person in the situation that you can control. Start practicing the connecting habits that improve relationships:
- Negotiate Differences
You may choose to practice these habits with family members, or with other people in your life outside of your family. Finding and practicing connecting habits will help you improve your ability to meet your need for love and belonging. Making strong, caring relationships with at least one other person is essential for mental health and happiness. These skills will help you move in that direction.
Stop practicing the disconnecting habits:
- Bribe or reward
This is not going to be easy. It is difficult when you and other members of your family are practicing all of the disconnecting habits. You have all gotten into a rut, a habit of disconnecting.
But you can change. It might help if you remove yourself from the loud shouting matches until they have passed then try and connect again. Choose one of the connecting habits and practice. Make a list of all of the things you can say and do that are consistent with supporting, for example. Then practice. The more you practice, the more you will be able to stop the disconnecting behavior and choose a connecting behavior. You are developing a new skill, a new habit.
You will not immediately feel happier or better about spending time with your tension filled family. But you may start feeling happier and better about how you interact with your family members. In so doing you may be better able to meet your basic needs, be mentally healthier and happier.
It’s worth a try.