Family Ties – Part 2

» Posted in Family Life, Marriage and Relationships, Personal Growth | 0 comments

 family picture

People often tell me how cute my parents are when they meet them for the first time.  There’s my little, scrawny dad with his hearty laugh and barely understandable English.  Get him talking and there’s no stopping him, even if you can only understand about 15% of what he says.  And then there’s my mom, a tiny thing weighing not much more than a couple of bags of rice (I’m Asian, okay, all weight measurements go by rice bags), with a gentle smile that lights up her face.  Everyone just loves them.

I love them too.  Don’t get me wrong, they’re gems.  But when my mother opens her mouth to lecture me on something, I inwardly shudder.  Honestly, she could be speaking in the most reasonable tone of voice and objectively, I know what she has to say makes a lot of sense.  But something just cringes inside of me.  I’m mature enough not to react outwardly (well, most of the time), but inside, I feel like I’m a young girl again.  And just so you know, I’m well into my middle aged years.  Too old to have my buttons pushed by my mom, right?

For those of you who grew up in my generation, it’s like the voice of Charlie Brown’s mom droning on in the background.  Mwah-wah-wah-wah-wah. And the worst thing is, even if I’m tired, resistant, or just plain unwilling to do something, I still find myself eventually doing what she wants me to do.  Not all the time, but enough times that I wonder why I keep getting pulled into the same dance.  It’s true that in my culture, respecting our elders is drilled into our heads, and so it’s a trained behaviour for many of us.  Really, though, my parents were actually quite liberal for their era and we’ve come a long way in having a mutually respectful relationship.  But boy, my parents still have a way of triggering the same old responses in me!

And as I shared in Part 1 of this series, I’m at the stage in my life where I’m having to care for my aging parents and face the reality of losing them, probably in the not too distant future.  And so really, I would love to get a handle on this because I want to enjoy whatever time I have left with my parents, untarnished by feelings of resentment and the feeling of being manipulated or controlled.  I want to see them as they are today, not respond to them as I did in the past.  I want to set healthy boundaries, be more honest with them about how I feel, and be loving and caring in my responses to them.  And I know that this is MY journey, not theirs; MY issues, not theirs.

Years ago, I read a quote that continues to ring true today:  Sometimes you’ll get so far away from your family you’ll think you’re outside its influence forever, then before you figure out what’s happening, it will be right beside you, pulling the strings (Peter Colliers).  No other relationship shapes who we are or how we respond to life and others more than our family.  Much of what we think, feel, say and do is in response to the home we grew up in.  On the conscious level, we either buy into or reject the lessons learned from our family.  On the unconscious level, we absorb ways of thinking, feeling and being.  Family influences can be like invisible strings that are tied to our feelings and play us like strings on an instrument.

It’s in our family that our patterns of emotional reactions develop – our family sets the blueprint for all other relationships.  Lest you think this dooms you (especially if you come from a dysfunctional family), these patterns can change – but only through awareness and intentional work to change those relational interactions.  It’s why you will tend to have the same triggers in relationships, and why couples will often repeat the same old dance in their conflicts – we tend to respond in the way we’ve been taught to respond from our family of origin.

Simply cutting these family ties – creating physical distance or avoiding your family – won’t work to change patterns.  Our attachment runs too deep.  If you’re struggling in relationships today, the core reasons are rooted in yesterday.  And if we don’t take the time to understand this important principle, we will continue to struggle with emotional pain or relationship problems.  Looking at our family patterns can sometimes unlock the mysteries of our present pain.

That’s the paradox of our past:  Most of us try to forget the pain in our past and move on – but this only allows our past to control our present and future.  As we understand the connection between our family of origin and our present reactions, feelings and issues, we can dismantle the strings that tie us to our past.  Freedom from the ties that bind comes in facing our problems squarely, not avoiding them.  Facing the past isn’t about blaming our family but about taking control of our present and our future.

Next week, I’ll share more about different family dynamics – both healthy and unhealthy – to help you break free from the family ties that bind you.  In the meanwhile, feel free to comment, ask questions or share your story!


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