It's almost here. Not the anticipated arrical of Christmas, but the visit from in laws. The iminent visit is a blaring reminder the holiday season fast approaching. It's also when my husband's brother arrives.
He likes to drink (a lot). He can get gossipy and angry when drinking. Say things he doesn't mean (which are very mean) yet never takes repsonsibility...because the family knows the golden rule about him...he was drinking and that's a perfectly acceptable excuse.
My husband didn't know his dad so a brother 10 years his senior is as good as a father figure. He would like his approval, but when my husband declines the bar hopping invitations, it translates into being my fault. It's the wife holding him back from living up to his liquored potential. After all, his brother had 6 wives who "held him back".
The truth is his family has a history of being burdened with addictions and depression. My husband overcame and changed the legacy for his own family that we have together. I admire him because he's done nothing short of turn his life around. However, his family represents the painful past and triggers old issues.
His family would like to interfere with anything that resembles healthy and good for him. They'd love to destroy the family we created because they have already done so for themselves. They practically bond over that.
The repugnant nature and idea of "healthy" does not compute pertaining to problem family members.
Holidays bring up family issues. Some of us can gulp it down with a heaping helping of turkey. Others have opted out because second helpings of psychological abuse isn't appetizing.
It seems the more improvements you make- choosing healthy attitudes, seeking healthy relationships and self-respect, the more toxic family members try to pollute that for you. My husband's family belittles us by insinuating we are too good for them because we do not join their malicious festivities.
Let me be the first to say, I will put up with a lot. And I have tried all of the below:
Keep your distance.
Be civil at all costs.
Fervently and tirelessly try to maintain the family relationship.
Fuck it (currently residing here).
With the visit close at hand, I feel the stress, but not as much as before I cut ties with toxic family.
The trouble with families is they know just where it hurts. The abuse is when they use what hurts to hurt you repeatedly.
I don't want to disappoint my husband as I know he'll see his brother regardless and he needs to. Because of additional issues, my kids and I will opt out of seeing him and thankfully he stays with other family in the area. I hate that it adds stress for my husband. I hate that it disrupts the family. I hate what it does to everyone else, but then I asked myself what it does to me? What it does to my kids? It makes me physically ill to see his family members because of everything from our past.
Physically ill. In pain! I'm not exaggerating really because I'm one of the coolest cucumbers you'll ever meet.
Making a decision to cut ties, temporarily or not, ultimately isn't an easy decision. People are riddled with the effects on others in the family or the family unit. It goes beyond a simple personal choice.
Will it blow the chances of reuniting the family? Will they blame the division of family on me? Will it put others in an awkward spot? Will a new problem arise? How ill it impact others?
I don't know. I would drive myself nuts trying to make everyone else feel at ease.
I've gone through this before so I feel like such a failure. After my own experiences, I wrote on the topic, and recently updated it(Strained Family Relationships; When to Walk Away). With an overwhelming reader response, I've learned a few things from them too.
First of all we get treated like shit in families because we allow it. This is why mistreatment from family members doesn't make sense or seems unfair. It's that we allow it, not that we deserve it.
The limit of your self-abuse is the limit you will tolerate from other people. Nobody hurts us worse than ourselves, therefore we make the rules up about how we are to be treated, and what we think we deserve based on the wounds we learned growing up"
Second, the holidays are the toughest time of year for both those who remain in touch with troubled members as well as those who have already cut ties. Weigh benefits versus risks- pros and cons. Chances are you've tried to set boundaries so I'm not going to re-hash that here.
What to consider:
~ If it's one troubled family member, it can be easier to ignore. It's when an entire family either enables or allows one person to manipulate the family as a whole, it becomes a problem. Perhaps there's a maladaptive legacy passed on within the family unit as it is with my husband's.
~ When it's time to visit or you're expecting a visit, how do you feel? Does it simply make you nervous? Or sick? Your gut reaction and body sometimes know more than your mind gives them credit for.
~ Remind yourself that relationships are GIVE AND TAKE. If you feel there is giving and taking among your family, maintaining relationships and overlooking the negatives is feasible.
~There is no perfect family BUT look around (other than a Campbell's chicken soup commercial) and see how other families relate. Have you been around family that speaks respectfully for the most part? How do they interact that is different from your family? What defines stability and "healthy" for you? Sometimes we think what we're putting up with is normal.
~ Outside opinion. Counseling helps because it gives you a non-bias perspective from someone who wishes you well, but has no ties personally. Got a super honest friend? Look online in forums or articles too. The comment section on my original post was full of scenarios and solutions: When and How To Cut The Ties With Bad Family Members.
~ Know the difference between annoyances and damage. Petty annoyances are nothing to break ties over. This part of the post is for people who have endured the very worst. They're at their wits end. (Later I'll discuss how to brave the family gathering if you're going).
~ Pride is bigger than you. When family members are operating on egotistic pride, you will be thrown under the bus before they address their own issues. In addition, those people are blind to what you claim to be issues. Pride is as good as a stoplight.
~ Abuse is abuse. You have permission NOT to tolerate it. I once had a conversation in my comment section with someone who had been abused by an uncle and dad and was now showing up to family gatherings subjecting her kids to the same issues. NOT okay. And as somebody abused, She was still worried she would offend those abusive family members. I finally suggested her husband take over communications on holiday events. He did and he stood his ground with her family as she was unable to do so. When she explained to her kids why they would not attend Thanksgiving that year, she felt better about what she was doing because the kids opened up and expressed their fear for those problem family members.
~Kids...if you have kids consider what you are exposing them to in the family. This was a big deciding factor for my situation. If one could blame their dad or brother for instance, the dad or brother could easily blame it on their dad or brother. Where does it stop? Family issues get passed down because nobody has broken the cycle for the kids in the next generation of the family.
For me, it was quite refreshing to let go of the extreme stress from problem family members by gracefully opting out. No need to over-explain myself to them. It was the first year I let go. If you choose to let go of a family member, remember to let go in your mind as well.
Tip: Making decisions or cutting ties before a family gathering, in my experience and what others have reported, is best.
Showing up to the family event anyway?
~Prepare emotionally and psychologically. Forget about ideal relationships and prepare for one event at a time. Keep things superficial without divulging a lot of your private life. Some family members take any info as ammo.
~If something hurtful is said or done, simply say, "That's hurtful". It gives the behavior acknowledgement without personalizing it.
~ Change the subject...often if you have to. And if you don't so what you usually do, this breaks their patterns. For those who spew psychological abuse, you can walk away, give vague answers, or change subjects. This isn't fun for them.
~Practice healthy living personally. Treat yourself well and/or your immediate family you've created, well. The more you practice your own version of healthy living, the less affective dysfunctional family members are. They might try harder to disrupt, but you will know where you stand.
~Limited time around problem family members means perhaps you go to the Thanksgiving function but not any others. Various other family members can keep in touch with you other ways if they want to.
~ Take a break before the event. This can go two ways...take a de-stressing time out or mini vacation beforehand. Take a time out from troubled family members, and those associated with them, before going to an event. A detox. This helps induce clarity to see the issues at face value without all the drama and emotional or psychological interruptions.
~Separate your adult self from your childhood. We have a tendency to go back to the injured or needy child when confronted with certain family members. We all play a role and we immediately re-enter it when around family again. Keep your eye on the adult world you have created- who you've become on your own without family influence. They can get to know who you are now, if they care.
~ Be aware of negative patterns. Dysfunctional family patterns repeat themselves like a room full of bad wallpaper. Recognize bad patterns. Don't repeat them and refuse to join them.
It only takes one generation to turn the tide
I'm passionate about no-nonsense self-improvement. Too many of us are plagued by faulty thought patterns- I aim to change that!