In every family, we all play certain roles. Maybe you think of yourself as the “black sheep” or the “unsuccessful one” or the “troubled one”. It may be that you’ve accepted this role that has been assigned to you, whether you earned it or not. But perhaps you have decided it’s time to shed that role.
Lets say that in my family, I have been all those roles, and I’ve already shared here earlier how the roles in my family have changed drastically in the last year. The “favorite son” is no longer “favorite” but estranged. Lucky me, I was promoted now and I benefitted in many ways by the change in that dynamic, but of course, I have also been hurt and negatively affected by it as well. With my parents out of town, I can put the whole situation out of my mind pretty easily. I can spend time with my brother’s family and love and fully enjoy being with them without conflict. But now my parents are about to return, and the situation will be ever present at every “family” holiday we spend together for the next 8 months where two sides of the conflict will be sitting on seperate sides of the room. What are my choices and how will those choices make me feel, both about myself, and about this conflict, and how can I step outside of feeling like I’m being pulled apart by the love I have for all of them? How do I find a way to avoid dreading all these events?
There are situations where we are upset about someone hurting us. We have to make decisions and choices about when to confront them and be willing to live with the results of our actions.
Here are two experiences I’ve had recently. One was with a very close family member who often hurt me, and I was pretty sure it was unintentional. I sat on those feelings for two years and then thought, it’s time for me to speak up, but how can I do this in a way that won’t cause more conflict. I did this by owning as much of it as possible. I sent an email essentially saying that I knew she didn’t mean to make me feel this way, but that she often seemed angry or irritated by me and what could I do to make this better , because her reactions were hurting me? I got very lucky and got a wonderful response, she said she wasn’t aware she was doing it and would work on improving this, and she has. Good outcome.
In the second situation, someone else close to me was also hurting me by lack of contact, and lack of involvement with myself and the rest of the family. I sent that person a text. I want to say that if someone I loved sent me that same text, it would definately make me want to reach out to them. But this is a short tempered and immature person, so the response was actually to threaten me, attack me, call me names, and so in this case, I felt worse than before I said anything.
Thus, it’s very important to be clear on what we want to get out of our relationships. If you’re dealing with someone who is mature and who you’re close to, sharing our issues and problems is a way to improve intimacy and iron out misunderstandings and preserve relationships. In the case where that is not who you’re dealing with, confrontation of any kind can just cause more pain and heartbreak.
So that’s what I will do when my parents return to town. I will avoid thinking and speaking of the conflict which I have no control over, and to the best of my ability, I will pretend that it doesn’t exist. I will try not to think about what I’ve lost, and try instead to focus on the fact that I’m grateful that at least they’re still able to be in the same room. I will do my best to focus on letting go my fantasies of what I wish were true, and instead try to be as grateful as I can about what I have. If I can do that, I will be in less pain, and that’s my goal.