Q I am part of a large and close family with siblings, parents, nieces and nephews. There are many challenges in the family that don’t seem to end. I have usually been involved in resolving family issues; however, I am beginning to realize that there are times when I can’t do much.
However, when I let people figure it out on their own, I feel guilty for not being helpful. I’d like to understand how to be involved, when to let go, and how to accept it without feeling terrible about myself.
A Large and close families often have big issues and their share of chaos. If there has been abuse, trauma, illness or significant losses by way of death or finances, needs and issues tend to be dealt with obliquely and severely rather than being worked out directly. Most families do not have the tools to identify, talk through, and resolve challenges. Arguments flare up and cause hurt, or things get swept under the rug, and resentment or withdrawal begins to greatly minimize any authentic connection. It’s very rare for an entire large family to sit down and hash things out. It requires tremendous patience, willingness, and skillful communication to successfully air things out and come to understanding and resolution.
It is best for you to carefully choose your battles. We are in our families to learn about human nature, not necessarily to have the best of friendships. The friends you choose may be more like you, while your family members may quite often be different from you. The ideal of everyone getting along and being one big, happy family is beautiful, but rarely accomplished. If there are two or three people that you can trust and be yourself with, consider yourself fortunate and nurture that.
We all learn about our emotions and patterns—and how we affect others and their needs—at a different pace. Accepting this reality is not easy, especially when you have been hurt. Real change requires each person to look at his or her contribution, take responsibility and begin the hard work of changing.
Fortunately, we live in a time when quite a bit of support, tools, and teachings are available for those who want to take the time and commit to self-development. As you grow, you will be able to influence others by your presence, self-awareness, clarity, and example. In the meantime, stepping back, letting go, and giving space allows other people to find their own way. Although this can feel like walking away, it is a respectful way to be patient and also take care of yourself.
Remaining guilty renders us ineffective and unable to be free of the past. If there is something you need to apologize for, do so. Otherwise, put your energy in relating in a healthy and clean way.
Alzak Amlani, Ph.D., is a counseling psychologist in the Bay Area. 650-325-8393. Visit www.wholenesstherapy.com