Making Family Roles More Fluid
As you may have noticed–:)–around the holidays, entrenched family patterns get really powerful. I think that that’s partly because we automatically drop into family patterns in our family relationships even more than usual. That’s to be expected– when we were kids, the same things happened over and over, and we reacted similarly over and over, until the whole family—kids and parents together—unconsciously created a rut as deep as a canyon. And it’s really hard to climb out of a canyon!
Entrenched Family Patterns
In family therapy, it soon becomes clear that, whether we’re talking from the point of view of the “child” in a family or the parent, most of the time people come only from their own experience of what’s happening, their own point of view. “My mother never trusted me—after the age of 12, my daughter always shut me out.” “Beginning when he was 14, my son hated me and did the opposite of anything I told him—something changed when I reached puberty; my Dad criticized everything I did.” Etc., etc. You get the picture. Often, the family patterns that started at a certain point in the family’s life become routine and entrenched.
Entrenched family patterns often start because each person is interpreting the other person’s actions, without checking out if the interpretations are true. We don’t know we’re doing it, because we’re assuming we know what’s going on with the other person—and we’re basing our own actions on our assumptions. That’s what creates emotional pain that can last a life-time.
Changing Family Relationship Patterns
As I said, we usually get stuck in our own interpretation of what’s going on, which creates stress and anxiety, emotional pain and even sometimes physical illness, especially around holidays—with family rites come automatic family patterns. I see this in my relationship counseling practice all the time. But how about looking at it from the opposite point of view? I think of it as moving over to the “other side” of how someone is behaving to get at what might really be going on.
For example, with the Dad above, who seemed to criticize everything you did when you reached puberty, you might want to imagine into Dad’s life when he reached puberty. Was his family poor and he had to go to work in a factory? What might that have been like for him? Did he enjoy that or did he have other dreams that were thwarted? Did he have to go to night school and work at a drudge job for years to get where he is now? If all that’s the case, why would he be constantly on your case? Could he dread the idea that your life might turn out to be as hard for you as it was for him? Might he want a better life for you? How would you react to him knowing that?
Another example—the son above, who seemed to hate you, Dad, and did the opposite of everything you told him. Maybe you can feel into the “other side.” Think back before he became a teen. Was he getting good grades in school? Did you and he do things together? Did he sometimes show you projects he’d done? What was your response? Did you praise him or encourage him to do more? Could it be that he thought, by suggesting what more he could do, or by asking why he’d gotten a “B” on a test, he thought you didn’t think he was trying hard enough, and he started feeling not good enough? Could he have given up on trying to please you? How would you react to him knowing that?
Mother and Daughter Conflicts
In family therapy and relationship counseling in general, I try to help people move around in family roles, to become more fluid in their point of view. You can try it on your own with the mother/daughter problems above—do your own conflict resolution. Or think about your own family and try it!
By the way, this method of going to the “other side” for conflict resolution works for all kinds of relationships and groups, not only for families. I’ve done conflict resolution in businesses as well.
Wishing you a free and joyous life,