Family is often thought of as the ultimate support system for a person – to be there for you, no matter what. But what if that is simply not the case for you? What if a member of your family or even your whole family, is a constant source of feuding and frustration for you? In this article we will explore the pain that this can cause and some ideas on how to navigate this in your life.
Why is it like this?
It can be hugely challenging when it feels like everyone else has a wonderful relationship with their siblings, parents or extended family and you don’t. It can often feel extremely isolating and unfair by comparison. It’s important however to remember that things are not always as they seem. While some people are of course very fortunate to have good relationships with their family members, for most people there are challenging relationships that exist within their family unit at some point in their lives. It may be with one person, like a sibling or a particular parent, it may be with extended family or perhaps in-laws and sadly for some, it can be difficulty with all of their family members. Regardless of the extent, its important to remember that its very common to have difficult family dynamics at some stage in your life.
There are many reasons this can be the case. Each individual within the family has their own unique personality, values and outlook on life. This can mean that fundamentally there is a clash between you and certain members of your family. In addition, trauma plays a large role in how we see the world. For example, a parent may have had an extremely painful childhood themselves and this, if left unhealed, impacts not only how they function in the world but how they relate to their own children and those around them. Finally, situations can arise that bring out new sides to people that we hadn’t seen before. For example, a death in the family can impact the roles people play after the event, such as a an older sibling feeling a burden to be more responsible or authoritarian after a parent has passed away. Combined with poor communication, this can lead to confusing interactions and ongoing fighting as others scramble to understand why someone is acting so differently.
What does it look like?
Having occasional family disagreements is normal, but when it becomes unending it can be unhealthy and damaging. For some its constant arguing, bickering and or even explosive fights. For others, its years of feeling excluded or being given the ‘silent treatment’ when you don’t comply with their wishes. It may be constant undermining, hurtful remarks or passive aggressive behaviours. Whatever it looks like, it can be tremendously draining if left unchecked.
Family feuds and fighting can have a huge impact on our mental health and wellbeing. Not only is it often difficult to navigate but there can also be a societal pressure to simply ‘get along’. Common emotions that are associated with difficult family dynamics are anger, sadness, resentment, disappointment and frustration. It can be especially difficult if you have to be around each other a great deal.
It can be hugely challenging to face difficult family dynamics, especially if they are ongoing. While there are no easy solutions, below are some ideas to help you navigate these relationships:
- Remember that you are not alone, as mentioned before, difficult family relationships are very common. Try not to make the situation harder on yourself by comparing your family to an ideal you have in your mind.
- Work through your feelings in a safe space. It can be a very difficult topic to cover with certain friends or other family members, sometimes it can make you feel worse when those around you don’t seem to understand. Therapy can be the perfect space to work through these complex feelings without judgement.
- Establish what boundaries are important to you. There may be certain topics or situations that are triggering to you. Understanding them is a major step in protecting yourself from unnecessary hurt. Once you have identified them you can avoid or deescalate situations when needed.
- Put yourself first. If a certain family member behaves in a highly damaging way, don’t feel that it is something that you simply need to accept. You and your mental health matter. Sometimes it means directly expressing your clear boundaries to them, taking a break from communicating and/or even avoiding certain people or situations. As each family and situation is unique, making use of therapy to work through it and develop a personalised coping plan is immensely helpful.
Difficult family dynamics are extremely taxing and can leave you feeling overwhelmed. While its entirely normal to have occasional disagreements with family, it’s important to remember it’s not something you need to suffer through endlessly. Boundaries, clear communication and putting yourself first is vital to protect yourself from unnecessary hurt.
I hope this article has been useful to those who need it. This will be my last blog article for the next few months as I step away on maternity leave, I look forward to covering new topics and areas of mental health as soon as I’m back. Thank you for reading & take care.
The article is written by Lauren, Trainee Counsellor at The DMC Clinic. If you would like to discuss how any of the topics mentioned above are impacting your mental health, please contact The DMC Clinic to arrange an appointment.