Family ties - is life this difficult in all families?

Of course, it would be near impossible to capture what happens in all families but most families seem to have many difficulties cross-culturally, sometimes acknowledged by family members, but often not. It can be difficult to face or know how to best face what’s going on in your family but it is likely true that it is best to address issues sooner rather than later.


What is meant by 'family'?

Another question is around who one would include in this group apart from the nuclear family (perhaps coined in this way to reflect the strong feelings underpinning family dynamics).

There are those who estrange themselves from their family, or find replacement families, through for example friendships, new acquaintances, work, religion and professionals. We are all aware of the distinctly damaging actions that take place in families worldwide, and estrangement, although difficult, may be the only option for safety and sanity to become established.

Another important aspect of family dynamics to consider is our ties to our families with a history going back to prenatal days in utero. Parents can create their children earlier than this at pre-conception, investing their lost dreams, hopes and expectations into and onto them.

Our lives can be hindered by family members’ unmet needs, sometimes disabling the ability to create their own family, through guilt of the thought of abandoning them, or that they may die without you.

Often such fears of rejection, abandonment and loneliness are communicated non-verbally through the martyr or powerful victim stance. Such characters verbalise all the bad things that have been done to them, with little responsibility taken for their part in the situation. Others are then unconsciously emotionally ‘pushed’ to take responsibility for, often to compensate for unprocessed childhood experiences.

It is perhaps helpful to consider how hurt and pain become passed on through the generations, often quite inadvertently. Family members often unconsciously take on different roles in family groups, such as the clown, the angry one, the sad one and the spokesperson, to name a few positions. Children can become the middle person between conflicted parents, becoming the stabiliser for the marriage.

Other situations demonstrate offspring stepping in to compensate for needs which can’t be met as they should within the marriage. Offspring are expected to perform inappropriate family roles. Sometimes, children become the bosses of the house and the structure of the family with the parents or carers in charge, becomes broken down to ill-effect. Parents need to be in charge to allow children to be children.

People marry for different reasons (as we know), but the number of marriages is decreasing. Perhaps women are finding heterosexual marriage less compelling as an option. Certainly, fewer women are having children and more at a later age, if at all. More than half of Londoners are single. I wonder if this is about something more than cheaper council tax? Articles are starting to be published highlighting the mental health detriments to women of heterosexual relationships, whilst other articles address same-sex interpersonal violence, as a result of a lack of difference in the sexes of such arrangements.

It is established that the life-cycle is changing with the vote and more access to education for women, greater acceptance of a range of gender and sexual identities, less longer-term working arrangements, more fertility options, the internet, social media and increased information about rights. There is more movement for change in many ways.

However, in families similar pain is being passed on transgenerationally. Perhaps at the core is the difficulty some individuals have in taking responsibility for their actions; it seems such a difficult nay impossible task to achieve for the majority. Possibly, a sense of perfectionism indicates such low self-esteem that the person perceives themselves as not surviving such admissions.

Blame, therefore, becomes shifted to others who are not responsible for the acts and so the integrity of the situation becomes easily skewed. We see this in families and repeated in organisations, with scapegoats finding themselves out of work with insidious collusive groups who have been there for 15+ years, backstabbing staff and setting them up to fail. Families and organisations turn a blind eye to harm, which becomes increasingly dangerous and toxic.

Let’s hope that our families and organisations don’t achieve the annihilation of the capacity for independent thought and that there are enough strong-minded individuals who still care about justice and fairness to stand up and speak up about wrongdoing. Clearly, too many people are turning a blind eye to harm for self-gain (financial gain, promotion, perks) which in effect condones the harm done through collusion.

I hope that more individuals feel confident to speak up in therapy about what is going on for them for self-care and the preservation of their integrity and sanity. I offer a safe and confidential space where you can start to think about what you want to share. Confidentiality is central to therapy for trust, safety and security, alongside the boundaries agreed, including that the therapist’s only contact with the client’s life is in the agreed time of 50 minutes of therapy.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Counselling Directory are reviewed by our editorial team.

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