Dysfunctional Family? Try To Fix It!
As one passes 50 or 60 years of life, we can only hope that the many lessons, happy and sad, painful and prideful, have taught us what truly matters in our life—love shared. But, sadly, even after all those years of living, a flawed sense of self can be so set in stone it blinds one to all that is available in family and sharing.
One thing I have learned over my many years of life and looking back at “why” things happened and beating myself up, is that I’m far from flawless. I’ve made really stupid mistakes, I’ve assumed incorrectly, and I’ve acted unfairly because I saw through spectacles of false pride. I’m sure I’m not the only one. But once I took off my shaded glasses and saw family clearly (including the genesis of our stupidity), and saw our flaws as just dumb flaws, I put those mistakes aside and realized how dumb I was/we were. However, this can’t work if done alone—for family by definition is more than one, and no matter how clearly you see the cause of disregard and set it aside, it will remain as strong a barrier as ever if not understood and shoved in the past by the other family member/s.
If you read my essay, “Esteem—A Child’s Foundation,” you see where I’m going with this essay. Like many kids, I was raised in a very dysfunctional family dynamic. Specifics aren’t necessary, but the dynamic that caused the dysfunction was the matriarch’s refusal to see her three children as equal in every way. Her placing our brother (she lovingly called her ‘first-born’) on a pedestal, at the expense of our feelings, spawned jealousy, anger, and disdain. Coupled with her total lack of affection, compliment, or notice of me or my sister, she prevented any “family” affection whatsoever, and fostered distance and disregard–never love; simply put, no one liked one another, and my sister and I hated our brother’s pedestal. In our home, love was never shared, nor the word ever spoken.
I see families today with the same persona; they just don’t like each other one bit. Yet, if they could understands the cause, and put disregard aside and history behind them, they can have ‘family’. The surprising thing is that when this happens, it will mean even more to them than had there never been distance.
My sister and I have done just that. A mere few years ago we didn’t even “like” one another. We never talked or gave one hoot about each other’s life, and we would blame and badmouth the other if given the chance; we were less than strangers. Yet after understanding and putting aside a half-century of distance and disregard, I finally and thankfully have a grand sister I love and who loves and cares for me, and we talk nearly every day. I have for the first time a sister and true friend, and genuine love flows both ways. Heretofore our ‘family’ was NOT a family, but merely four alone individuals distant, uncaring, and separate in every way. Now, I have past “Family” though it is but a family of two. She and I understand fully ‘why’ we felt that way, and we have put our individual stupid mistakes and pathetic egos where they belong, in the trash.
Our brother cannot see the cause of his disregard, disdain, and jealousy. His ego says he’s right and we’re wrong, he knows all and we know little, and thus he remains up there all alone in his shallow arrogant world of selfish indulgences. He simply cannot step off that damn pedestal our mom built for him as a child–he’s been up there too long. He does not know how to love and be loved—for he has never experienced it, other than his love of church. That love is wonderful, but love of church and God is not a worldly love, it is a spiritual internal love of self with faith that God and church loves us back. I suppose this is enough for him, but he knows not what he is missing; we are of the world, we are flesh and emotion, and hugs and kisses, and “I love you’s” are the fuel of life. His whole joy is superficial in the wine he drinks, expensive dinners out, and the concerts he attends in London, always by himself. He knows not the intense emotion of a kiss of love, a hug of affection, or the feel of tears moving down his cheek when hearing or saying the words “I Love You”. It is indeed sad. If my brother read this essay he would fire back an eloquently written “Correction” of my assessment to further protect his ego, for remember, he is never wrong. But he won’t, for it would mean stepping off his pedestal–he refuses to read any novel, book, journal article, column, or essay I have ever written—he simply can’t imagine his lowly brother could ever write anything of quality).
My point to you is simple, though not so easy to carry out. If all’s not great within your family, step back and look at your person, and your family, not through spectacles clouded with flaws (toss them away for good), but through the eyes of a family member unbiased by a dysfunctional history. Set aside the petty differences that cause you to care little, or dislike a family member. Understand that differences are often blown way out of proportion due to “OUR” ego—and theirs as well. To hell with egos, they only keep us from owning the wondrous beauty of love. Look at your brother or sister, mother or father, uncle or niece, simply as “your” brother, sister, mother, or dad, unbiased with past errors on your part or theirs, for who cares? It’s dumb-ass history.
Don’t let a senseless flawed past keep you from love and sharing. To hell with the flaws, screw history, care not about who was right or wrong, none of it matters. What matters is loving your brother, sister, mom, and dad, uncle and nephew. Goodness gracious, open your eyes, your arms, your mind, and let them in, and let yourself out of the stupid-ass constraints of the past. I promise you, you will be as grateful as I. And if they won’t let you in, so-be-it, you are the better person for trying—but do keep the door open for them (yes, my door is open to my brother, he need only step off that ego pedestal).
Love is what life is all about, and family love is oh so very precious–I know–for the first time I feel it. If, sadly, you too lacked that feeling for a family member, please believe me, you do want it–it is wondrous. So give it a try. tj