Dysfunctional family members are hard to predict and harder to handle.
A reader recently commented on my article, How to Get Along with Family When You Don’t Fit In, with the question: “But what if the family consists of alcoholics, constant fighting and crisis?” Getting along with family members under those conditions is near impossible as the family dynamic is set around dysfunction. When people are incoherent, belligerent, sarcastic, belittling, or prone to drama they don’t want peaceful relations, so there’s no point in trying. If they weren’t family, would you spend time with them? Most likely not, but because they are there is a bond that pulls you toward them.
I wish I had an ideal solution for handling dysfunctional family members – such as an incantation you could silently whisper that would render them speechless, wake them up, soften their heart and touch their soul so deep they’d experience instant transformation. What I do have are four suggestions for how to protect yourself so you don’t get drawn down into the muck and misery with them.
1. Set healthy boundaries. Are there certain times of the year or specific events where the family dysfunction is worse? Make other plans for those times so you don’t feel obliged to attend family gatherings. If there are some family members you enjoy spending time with, arrange this on your own terms. Perhaps individual visits with no alcohol and an agreement to focus on the positive when you’re together will help. Explore a variety of ways to create healthy boundaries with family.
2. Let go of guilt and obligation. Dysfunctional family members don’t usually understand why a saner member of the family doesn’t want to get together. If you feel any sense of guilt or obligation they will sense this and use it to cajole, manipulate or guilt you into visiting or attending family gatherings. If you feel clear and strong within yourself that it is not healthy for you to attend, and that other family members will be fine without you, it will be easier to say no without needing to explain. This strength will emanate from you and prevent others from poking and prying.
3. Remain neutral and amused. For times when you do attend family events, rise above the fray by staying neutral and amused. Don’t let dysfunctional family members trigger you or hook you into reactivity. Stay centered within your own bubble of calm and lightness as a way to protect yourself from the onslaught of family abuse.
4. Touch into compassion. If you are judgmental or disapproving towards your family, this will dampen your mood and make you vulnerable to attack. Instead, have compassion for others. Know that they weren’t born like this, but somewhere along the way their wounds became so difficult to handle they resorted to dysfunctional coping mechanisms. Look past behaviors to see the spiritual being within who longs to be seen. And for a spiritual perspective, read the article, The Soul Purpose for Dysfunctional Families.
I hope the above suggestions help you to bring more peace and calm into your family relations.
Do you have any questions or further suggestions for how to handle dysfunctional family members? Please share below.