Once you start taking a deep dive into unhealthy patterns and where they come from - often coping mechanisms from childhood where our needs may not always have been met - doing 'the work' has the potential to put you in a spin. This article is aimed at those whose family dynamics and situations are not dangerous, toxic and extremely unhealthy. It is more for those of us who notice that when we return to the family home, certain uncomfortable emotions show up which remind us of some of our core wounds.
For those on the healing path, it can be common to look back and not see anything positive from your childhood. This happens quite often when you are at the beginning of your healing journey. We can really struggle to be around family and/or caregivers - those who were there when we first established our adaptive techniques to environments and interactions that were not always healthy, and in some cases, traumatic.
If you find yourself looking back and wanting to blame your caregivers for your past and especially if you struggle to move forward and take responsibility for your own patterns of behaviour now, I would like to invite you to do a few of things if you feel able to…
The first is to allow yourself to experience the feelings you have and not judge them. So when you experience the situation as ‘grim’, 'frustrating', 'annoying', disappointing' can you accept it for what it is? Without needing to try to change it or make it ‘better’? What if you allowed yourself to fully accept the reality that you currently find yourself? Accept it in that it is what it is that you cannot change it. A side note that if you are experiencing specifically toxic behaviour acknowledging that and removing yourself from it. In these situations I always think of what a securely attached and healthy person would do.
I would also like to invite you to get curious. Can you observe the behaviour of those around you? Can you detach yourself emotionally and observe them as though you were understanding their own trauma wounds and bonds? Can you recognise their own shadows playing out? Can you accept that they are where they are and you are not in control of their behaviour? That deep down you know they are doing the best that they can with the resources they have available to them?
If the situation with your family is not so toxic that the safest thing for you is to remove yourself from having a relationship with them, I would like to invite you to see where you can find the joy, pleasure, curiosity and awe in your relationship with your family… some examples of how you can look to reframe their behaviour, (your list will likely be different)
A parent who frequently voices how important it is to have family together which can feel suffocating, so instead see their demands as their expression of their love language - time
If someone buys you something and even if it wasn’t ‘right’ appreciate that they were trying
If you have children and the grandparent have good intentions but don't treat the children exactly how you would, understand they are doing their best
That even though they don’t ‘get’ or understand your parenting because it triggers them into feeling they were ‘bad parents’, they still try where possible to do it your way
That a caregiver's unsolicited advice and opinion is because they care and are worried about you
That when the shit really hits the fan, you have people who are there for you when you do need it
The above are some examples. However, it’s about looking for the joy, pleasure, curiosity and awe, can you let the ‘but’ and 'even though' go? It does not mean that you need to do something that you don't want to do. You still place boundaries and maintain them. However, what you are doing is making their behaviour less 'personal'. That, in fact, they are looking for certain needs to be met or have their own triggers but they are not doing the work you are doing and so do not know how to communicate this. (Being mindful that they may never do the work either.)
Can you find time in between being with family to enjoy your own space and approach that time with joy, pleasure, curiosity and awe? … returning your body to a state of pleasure, trust and safety?
I totally understand though how difficult it can be.
Your experience and feelings are so valid. Remind yourself this.
One of my teachers very wisely once told me...
“Being fully healed and reaching enlightenment is returning to the family home and not getting triggered.”
Carla Crivaro is a trauma-informed and certified Sex, Love & Relationship Coach, she works with men and women internationally to reach their goals in delicious sex, profound love and authentic relationships. Carla helps men and women understand themselves and each other, sexually and relationally, in and out of the bedroom. You can reach her at email@example.com.
Other articles and podcasts which are supportive around this topic are: