Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Difficult Family Relationships

The struggle for so many recovering adults is how to interact with members of their childhood family — their parents and siblings. Cultural and family values influence the messages and feelings you received regarding family loyalty and commitment. Typically, you want to stay connected with your family. But, how do you re-enter the arena of family relationships and be true to who you are and what you believe? Your efforts may be tentative at first; you will have to learn somewhat from trial and error. Everyone's situation is unique and every individual will need to sort through these issues in a way that is comfortable to them.

It is common to hear adults express loneliness and sadness that their recovery has further alienated them from various members of the family. When a family has not developed healthy alliances, communication patterns, etc., one family member's recovery is often confusing for the non-recovering members.

Being with family members may mean having more superficial interactions — sharing the daily routine without intimacy, recreational interactions, carrying on family rituals. Traditional occasions may be one way to maintain connection to ones you love. Even superficial contact provides connection. Your choice (remember, you do have choices here) may be to choose this level of involvement over no involvement at all. Limited involvement in connection is okay.

It is helpful to know why you are engaging with family. Do you feel a sense of loyalty, duty, enjoyment, or love? People differ as to their history and values, which impact decisions about being loyal and dutiful. In spite of family pain, many people still feel love, and many people have found ways to enjoy certain family members. Or, are you still unconsciously seeking validation or approval?

It doesn't seem to matter how old we are, we all want to know that we are valued by our parents. When we don’t receive validation in our growing up years, it often becomes an even more urgent, yet usually denied, need. Unfortunately, validation and approval are not as apt to be offered by sick or unhealthy parents. They are often no more capable of offering that to us today than they were when we were children. In fact, it is more likely they are now seeking that from us. So know your expectations. And ask yourself if your expectations are realistic. Are they based on hope from seeing behavioral changes, or is it possibly a fantasy?

The holiday season is approaching and this is a time for recognizing your choices about how you spend time with family.

1 comment:

  1. I heard the other day that our disease is three fold: Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Years. This holiday was full of superficial interactions. My mom is a different person when my sister is present. I have in the past been scapegoated by "auto-routine" when they two of them are together. This is a displacement from my normal role of "hero".
    My dad was a violent Viet Namn Vet who had several addictions and never entered recovery. Because of his violent nature, we never had a close relationship after my first grade year of grade school. Fast forward thirty-seven years, no one talks about what happened, our family has been very shame-based and religiously addicted. Being the first in the family to make it into recovery, I feel like the lone ranger sometimes. I hope and pray that mom and sister will be miraculously made whole but no miracles yet. I've made the decision to be on the healthy side of the bridge. I wave at them and invite them over when they will listen but two against one is not good odds. They are much better at being a codependent victim than I ever could be.

    This holiday was more manageable for me, not sure how it was for them. I gave them time to be together without me present. I went for a drive at Thanksgiving, then Christmas shopping before the big day. A helpful tip I received after the fact is to get a hotel and drive my own car next time.

    I have been setting boundaries with my mom. I asked to her to treat me like she does her co-workers where she always says please and thank you. I also asked her how the Navy ever let me drive a submarine without her there to watch over my every move. When she yells about something I did, without a clue about what I should have done instead, I remind her that I'm not 5 anymore and I don't have the gift of mind reading, and if she wants to yell, she can do whatever I did wrong by herself next time. I made these assertions after many years of just getting along, gritting my teeth and medicating my pain later. I'm happy to report that our relationship is more adult than ever before.

    My sister, on the other hand, still treats me like the older brother she would rather not have. I've been blocked from chatting with her on Facebook and my emails get lost in cyberspace I guess. I finally realize (after much encouragement) that I survived all the past without her there every minute and I won't die without her love and active participation in my life. I spent many years trying to make up for whatever I thought I did wrong as a brother by buying gifts and trips and keeping the communication lines going from my end. Now, I'm tired of trying, my way hasn't worked and I feel like a failure when I can't change her (duh). Well, I'm working on different behavior but It is very painful for I get lost in the fantasy of having a close family like the Walton's TV show or the Cleavers. My mom will never be June Cleaver and my sister is not Wally.

    I am me and that's ok. Thanks Claudia for your work.