As you get ready for a family visit you can feel the tension building- tightening in your throat and your belly. Your thoughts are already running in circles and you prep for the worst. Who will be the first to make the snide remark or throw that critical look your way? When will the old jealousies or hurt feelings flare?
Developing a healthy relationship with your family may seem like an impossible task. And there is only so much anyone can do on their own to reduce conflicts and overcome patterns of dysfunction. The key here is to create your healthy approach (and sometimes this can include distance or even absence) with your family.
Here are seven tips that you can use to reduce the tension and stress of spending time with a hurtful, dysfunctional family
1) Relax– be yourself. Use deep breathing and progressive body relaxation and stretching to calm your mind and body. If you calm your body your mind will follow. If you are tense and anxious others will sense this and react with tension and anger.
2) Focus on the present in your relationship not the past. Focus on today, on who you are now-not who you have been. Allow yourself to imagine that you are meeting these people for the first time. Be curious about them, ask questions, and be open to learning new things.
3) Practice clear and direct communication. Be spontaneous and truthful. You have years of unique experience- trust that knowledge as well as your own ability to continue learning and changing. Recognize that fear and anger make us rigid, inflexible, and unable to learn. These are often the very qualities that have made our family so painful.
4) Decide on what your agenda is with your family. Spend time with your family for a reason- your own reason(s). Choose what you would be interested in learning and experiencing in the time with them. Offer them the chance to join in. If they decline or are unable recognize that the time is not right and that you have permission to leave and do something else.
5) Have a strong network of friends and supports outside your family. Create and nurture connections with others who understand and support you. Carry some small rememberance of these friends with you on your return home to reduce loneliness or feelings of isolation.
6) Use your interests and talents to enrich your relationships with family members. Where possible share your interests or skills with other family members in a way that would be useful to them. Offer them the chance to join with you and if they decline then thank them for considering it. Then go ahead and do what you enjoy assuring them you will be back when you finish.
7) Ask for help and allow others to be helpful. Allow family members to be helpful to you if they can. If possible even request their help in some small way which you know they are talented and proud and which could be truly helpful to you. Demonstrate gratitude and teach them the power of caring and nurture.
Hurtful families have typically become that way after years, even generations, of pain, suffering, and illness. You cannot expect yourself to change the course of this development in any one visit. Yet you can reduce its impact on you and those closest to you through carefully developing a mindful stance. Being “with” but not “part of” the dysfunction that plagues your family can be a small, yet critical step in moving from a downward path to a gentle journey to wholeness.
Begin the journey today- contact me: www.jimwalkerlcsw.com
Jim, your article has lots of useful information for people who have come from dysfunctional families. It helps to have someone with your experience spell it out, step by step of how to take care of oneself while visiting the family.