The Family Dilemma: A Method To The Madness
Once again you find yourself here. You are angry, upset, annoyed and frustrated to no avail. Having just had a full-blown argument with a family member that started out as a civil conversation, but somehow evolved to the brink of World War 3 and now you are at each others throats. You have tried everything to avoid these negative situations, even going as far as separating yourself from them. It is important for you to understand that you are not alone and it is not your fault that you are not as close with a family member as you would like to be. Maybe you were "Mama's Favorite", "Daddy's Little Girl" or "The Black Sheep of the Family", as a child and as you grew into adulthood. Maybe you felt ignored and unloved in your family compared to a sibling who takes advantage of your parents love and generosity. You could be that child (like myself), who is not as close as they would like to be to their parents due to their irrational and unpredictable behaviors.
Whatever the case maybe, it is important for you to know as early as possible that family dysfunction is normal. Feuding and competing for attention and affection within a family unit is built into the human genetic code. Once you realize what role you play and who YOU are in this flawed family dynamic you were born into, your job as an intelligent adult is learning how to feel, operate, and communicate within it. I know sometimes you want to pull your hair out dealing with the negative aspects concerning certain family members; but remember, your sanity and mental health are more important than your feelings. Here are some key methods to dealing with the madness of family dysfunction.
1. Acceptance. It may sound cliche, but it is very true that you have to be willing to accept the past history and the way the relationship has evolved over the years to the way it is now. There may never be a divine intervention to bring you two together or they may never have an epiphany one afternoon and wake up a changed person to your liking. You however have the ability to accept that this is the way that things have always been and most likely will always be and become okay with that. Accepting that you are Not the favorite or that they are NOT as close to you as some of the other family members is important. Whatever the case may be, once you accept the truth and stop waiting for a fairy tale-esque ideal family dynamic, the closer you will come to finding an inner peace that you may never have known before. In life, maybe even after horrible circumstances, sometimes we create our own pain, suffering and isolation because we can not, do not, or will not accept the truth. Your inability to accept your circumstances and situations (past or present) will cloud your judgement. Life is an ongoing challenge and learning acceptance is key to facing life challenges head on.
2. You Can Not Reason With The Unreasonable. You may want to believe that when dealing with an intelligent person, that they will be reasonable when dealing with you. This is not always the case when handling issues with a dysfunctional family member. Trying to reason with an unreasonable family member is like having bad plumbing; once you attempt to fix it yourself, you've got a turd sliding across the tile and you soon find yourself knee-deep in crap wondering how you got here. Especially when dealing with substance abusers who typically stop growing emotionally once addiction sets in. Or the family manipulator, who can play the victim card with you or your parents, using others to achieve and push their agenda, while hurting others in the process.
It is important to understand that a person can not reason with an unreasonable person. Understand that you can not win an argument, make arrangements, intervene to help without being taken advantage of, have a sit-down discussion with them about your concerns and fears and think that they will understand, change, agree or acknowledge it and move forward without some sort of outrageous backlash. Manipulators will always try to pull a fast one over family and friends to get what they want. If your parents are being taken for a ride by a sibling and you can not stop it or reason with either side, accept that this is what the situation is unfortunately and move on. We sometimes have a hard time believing that our hands are tied and there is nothing we can do. If your mother and you are not close, why live in a life of misery because of it? You are 2 different people. You may be passive and she may be aggressive and maybe she can only stand to be around you for a few hours at a time. Whatever the reason, trying to get someone to understand and sympathize with your wants and needs is sometimes an uphill battle and you will lose.
Identify those people who are hell-bent on having things stay the way they are, are argumentative and defensive about the smallest things, or could care less about what ideas you have about helping them. If they want something from you that is unreasonable and they try to make you feel guilty about saying "NO", stand your ground! Unreasonable family members will mud-sling, yell, curse, lash-out and make a scene all because they are unwilling to attempt to compromise to reach a common goal you both have. Always keep a level head and never engage a crazy person, someone that just does not see things your way or a complete idiot. Because even if they are a blood relative, it's a fight that goes nowhere...
3. Never Judge Past Mistakes. The past is the past. There is absolutely nothing you can do about how negative your childhood was, how unfairly you were treated compared to your brothers or sisters, or why a parent was absent in your life and did not seek you out. Whatever the case may be, negative things may have happened to you, but they do not define who you are! Casting judgment over a parent or a sibling is non-productive and utterly wrong. Even worse is allowing yourself to feel guilty about your own mistakes and slip-ups and never forgiving yourself. Dysfunctional family members will use past incidents and guilt as ammunition against shameful family members as an excuse for their own questionable behavior. Their mistakes are theirs and your mistakes are yours. Addressing and arguing about 10, 15, or 20 year old family skeletons and prehistoric drama is pointless.
You are adults now, so no one cares anymore about that summer when you or your siblings (or your parents for that matter) were 14 and you ran away from home, how you were abandoned by your parents, you did drugs, had sex, got arrested, abandoned the family, got pregnant, had a baby, had an abortion, gave it up for adoption, got married at 18, got divorced by 20, this list could go on forever! Whatever happened, whatever mistakes that were made, it is over and we now can move on and live to fight another day. Judging someone and using their past against them can be used as a form of humiliation. When you have family members who will use your past dirt and mistakes against you, and you have not come to terms with your past, those old feelings will resurface and it will bother you. They may be judging you for shock value to hurt you, to break you, or just to get the attention off of themselves. Either way, if you have not accepted your own faults and identified your own flaws, someone will attempt to point them out for you. I can not be judged by anyone (to my face at least) because I take it as a form of flattery. I have accepted my past mistakes, flaws and missteps, taking away that form of ammunition that they may try to use against me.
4. Never, Ever Argue! When you have an adult family member that is argumentative, manipulative, spoiled, a substance abuser, bi-polar, unreasonable, or is opportunistic and self-centered; why argue with them? Never allow yourself to get sucked into confrontations when you know that this person is dramatic and easily offended. As adults, we know what topics of discussion are sensitive to our closest family members and relatives. Do not push those buttons unless your looking to ruin your own day. If you have a strained relationship with certain family members, be courteous and respectful at a distance if it can not be fixed, repaired or in their eyes, nothing is wrong. Never go "tit-for-tat" if you feel an argument brewing. Walk outside and let cooler heads prevail. Identify those family members that like to go on rants and lectures about whatever, the thieves, habitual liars and so on and do not entertain them when you see a fun conversation going south. Not being confrontational with irrational family members does not make you passive, it makes you stress free concerning them. It takes 2 people to argue and without one of them, the other person still yelling and ranting seems unstable and crazy. Arguing is the most no productive form of communication. Arguing with a dysfunctional family member is just plain stupid on your part, especially if you know better. So avoid the headaches, stress, and the pointless questions the sane members of your family can not even answer and do not argue with the insane problematic ones! You will live longer...
We all have family problems and issues and have to deal with family members that go from one extreme to the next in dramatic fashion. Life and family is not about dwelling on the negative aspects and wishing things could be or could have been different, its about making the best of it and living as worry and carefree as possible. We can only do so much, take so much, say so much and be there so much for them before it begins to take its toll. Find ways to adapt to negative situations regarding dysfunctional family members. You have to develop a method to handling family madness or you yourself will go mad...
Rob Ronzio on April 18, 2014:
My family is so dysfunctional but I take it to another level I am a midget and not well educated so I try to mess with people and be underhanded in every situation I usually gain financially from others misery in fact some have died as a result of my machinations
mba on June 12, 2012:
Love this! These suggestions are right on the money. It seems this was written directly for myself. Thank you!
Craig Holman (author) from Dallas, Texas on February 16, 2012:
Thank you for commenting and sharing billybuc. This is a topic I am all to familiar with.
Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on February 09, 2012:
Nice job and you bring up some excellent points that are well-worth considering. As one who grew up with a dysfunctional environment I can testify that your suggestings are absolutely correct.