All in the family

photo of Gwen Randall-Young

by Gwen Randall-Young

Sometimes, problems don’t require a solution to solve them; instead, they require maturity to outgrow them. – Steve Maraboli

As a therapist, I have seen virtually every kind of conflict that can happen in families. Sometimes, a family can resolve the conflicts and move on, but more often it seems an undercurrent is always there and can flare up at any time.

While all relationships can be complicated, it is more often the case in families. This is because a conflict between two family members generally affects everyone in the family. Family members have long histories together. When old wounds are triggered, it is likely because they were never resolved in the first place.

Further, it is within families that we learn how to communicate, how conflict is handled and how others are treated. The family is the crucible in which patterns of behaviour are formed. Those patterns are laid down by the age of seven. Unconscious patterns can be handed down for generations.

If insight and the ability to communicate or solve problems is limited in parents, children will grow up thinking that is how to do it in the world. It is sad to think children have the ability to model any kind of behaviour and that they could just as easily model evolved behaviour as they do primitive behaviour. They live what they learn.

If a family experiences ongoing conflict, family therapy is a way to provide all members with a more productive way to deal with it. A family may be stuck in blame, criticism and judgement.

Effective communication and problem solving skills in relationships are not a standard part of educational training. There are excellent books, websites and workshops available, however, it does take a level of emotional maturity to want to learn a better way.

Often, there is anger, hostility and judgment; the goal is not to make it better, but rather to tear down another. Whether it is within the nuclear family or the extended family, it creates dis-ease and polarity. A family may decide they do not like another family member’s partner. They then resort to gossip and put-downs just like junior high girls often do, but junior high girls are children.

We need to honestly assess our behaviour and ask ourselves if we are being mean or acting as a bully. Sometimes, people think the object of their disdain and meanness deserves to be treated that way, but if we are retaliating, we are no better than that person.

No one can be happy when there is ongoing conflict. And it can be very hard to look at our own role in contributing to the problem, but it does take two. We cannot change anyone else, only ourselves.

Most of us are familiar with the concept of taking the high road, but ego will get in the way and ignore that road and we end up taking the low road. That only generates more misery. Instead, it is time to recognize we are not kids anymore and we are not fighting in a sandbox.

Maturity means reining-in those ego reactions and modelling a more grown up way of handling life’s challenges.

Gwen Randall-Young is an author and psychotherapist in private practice. For articles and information about her books, “Deep Powerful Change” hypnosis CDs and “Creating Effective Relationships” series, visit ‘Like’ Gwen on Facebook for daily inspiration.

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