Thursday, December 24, 2009

Sue Scheff: Dysfunctional Families (Putting the "fun" in DysFUNction)

If there is anyone out there that has a "normal" family; a family that has never encountered conflict, a family that doesn't have that one relative that we can count on to bring us down, a family that is always joyful, or a family that is simply "perfect" then please share your secrets!

Dysfunctional families are more common than non-dysfunctional families in my opinion. I speak to a lot of families through my organization, and I can attest to many families that suffer from distressful situations as well as heart-wrenching pain from a loved one. Realizing we can't control others or change them is part of accepting that having a dysfunctional family can be consider normal.

During the holiday season it is time to try to put the family conflicts aside. Here are some tips that may help you have a peaceful day, even with the contention. Yes, let's try to put some fun into dysfunction.

Source: Martha Beck, - Sanity Saving Strategies

Strategy #1: Give Up Hope.

Before you meet your relatives this season, take a few moments to sit quietly and acknowledge what you wish they were like. Then prepare to accept them even if they behave as they have always done in the past. At best, you may be surprised to find that they actually are changing, that some of your wishes have come true. At worst, you'll feel regrettably detached from your kinfolk as you watch them play out their usual psychoses.

Strategy #2: Set Secure Boundaries Given that your family members will probably go on being their same old selves, you need to decide how much contact with them you really want. Are there certain relatives you simply can't tolerate? Are there others you can handle in group settings but not one-on-one? How much time and intimacy with your family is enough? How much is too much?

Strategy #3: Lose Control

Don't violate your own code of values and ethics, but don't waste energy trying to make other people violate theirs. If soul-searching has shown you that your mother's opinions are wrong for you-as are your grandfather's bigotry, your sister's new religion, and your cousin's alcoholism-hold that truth in your heart, whether or not your family members validate it. Feel what you feel, know what you know, and set your relatives free to do the same.

Strategy #4: Become a Participant Observer

Some social scientists use a technique called participant observation, meaning that they join groups of people in order to watch and report on whatever those people do.

Queen for a Day
Prior to a family function, arrange to meet with at least two friends-more, if possible-after the holidays. You'll each tell the stories of your respective family get-togethers, then vote to see whose experience was most horrendous. That person will then be crowned queen, and the others will buy her lunch.

Strategy #5: Debrief

Even if you don't play any participant observation games, it's crucial to follow up on family events by debriefing with someone you love. If your brother really "gets" you, call him after a family dinner you've both survived. If you don't trust anyone who shares a shred of your DNA, report to a friend or therapist. Generally speaking, you can schedule a debriefing session for a few weeks after the holidays, when everybody's schedule is back to normal. However, you should exchange phone calls with your debriefing partners within a day or so of the family encounter, just to reconnect with the outside world and head off any annoying little problems, such as ill-considered suicide.

Let's try to have a peaceful and calm holiday season.....

Beating the Holiday Blues

Also on Examiner.