“Why Should I Have a Relationship With a Family Member Who’s Been Mean to Me?”
People who come to me for therapy know that I advocate developing and maintaining contact with as many members of the nuclear and extended family as possible. Some clients are initially skeptical of this idea:
You may have had conflict with a family member in the past and are reluctant to open old wounds.
You may have relatives who have a negative opinion of a certain family member or branch of the family, and you have assumed their opinion is correct.
You probably have relatives you’ve never met before, maybe because your parents don’t have relationships with them or they live far away.
You may have a relative or relatives who have treated you poorly in the past. They may be known to drink too much, use drugs, or be otherwise irresponsible. They may even have a history of violent or criminal behavior*.
“How could it be helpful to get to know people I don’t even like?”
- When you use cut off or emotional distance to manage the tension in relationships, those relationship issues remain unresolved. The unresolved tension will play out in your existing relationships.
- By bridging cut offs, you can begin to decrease the emotional intensity in all your relationships. Lowered intensity results in greater flexibility, openness, and freedom to be the person you want to be.
- People use cut off to escape negative patterns in the family, but without resolving the patterns you are likely to repeat them in new relationships. By reconnecting with family, you can learn to see your part in negative patterns. The truth is, everyone participates. Change comes from recognizing and then altering your role in the family dynamics.
- By getting to know more family members, you’ll learn what different branches of the family have in common. This can help you to feel less isolated or victimized by your own circumstances.
- There is no greater boost to self-esteem than the ability to manage yourself around difficult relatives. That increased self-esteem will benefit you in all areas of your life.
- Most people find that with consistent effort over time, even the most troublesome relationships become more harmonious. The true goal of the contact, however, is to get better at being able to regulate yourself. This is far more empowering than having to rely on the “good luck” of having a nice family.
- Connecting to family will actually change your physiology over time. People who are isolated tend to have more chronic anxiety, which leads to increased physical and emotional symptoms.
- Every family is the product of all the families and circumstances that have come before it. Learning about the past helps us to understand and deal with the present.
- Cut off runs in families through a Multigenerational Transmission Process. By staying in good contact with family, you’ll be altering and improving the legacy you pass on to your children.
- You will come to understand that you cannot rely on distance to achieve true independence, which only comes from being yourself while also staying emotionally close to important others.
*Safety First. Never put yourself in harm’s way in the name of helping or personal growth. “Emotional abuse” is not the same as physical violence and can often be addressed with the coaching of a trained therapist.