If we want to experience peace in our lives, and this is the choice I have made, we have to be vigilant against adding to the disharmony all around us. We do this through adopting a number of simple practices. The first one, and perhaps the easiest one that comes to mind, is “stepping aside” rather than letting our minds, coupled with our actions, become engaged with others in a negative way.
Getting caught up in someone’s negative behavior, inadvertently absorbing his or her negative opinions, is a choice. It may be a passive choice, but it’s a choice nonetheless. However, we can choose to look the other way, or at the very least, move our minds away from the “chaos” and say nothing. When seriously practiced, this is not a difficult choice.
The choice for peace, rather than judgment,
is worth the effort we give it.
The Impact of Judgment: Emotional Exhaustion
Dysfunctional families live in a maelstrom of judgment, which infects every situation facing each family member throughout the day. It’s far too easy to dismiss the impact judgment can have on a person’s psyche — his interior spaces. When the judgment is constant, emotional exhaustion sets in, and the drive to succeed at anything is diminished.
Dysfunctional families practice so many unfavorable behaviors, scathing judgment being only one of many, that it’s nearly unfathomable that folks can rise, as they do, to become people of great charm and achievement, committed to persevering towards specific goals, and determined to develop and reveal qualities that were foreign to them in their family of origin. One wonders how this is even possible.
Developing Quiet Acceptance: Allowing Others To Be
Acceptance is the quiet solution to every unwelcome circumstance
or person that can’t be changed or controlled
— in a family, a community, a country.
In a family environment that is severely judgmental, one of the many good qualities that we can develop is an eagerness for acceptance. It’s fascinating to me that the lack of acceptance I lived with in my family of origin propelled me to demonstrate my acceptance of folks who were quite unlike the family in which I was reared.
Was there a connection? I think yes. The more judgment I felt, the more I wanted to establish that I was making different choices, and this is not unusual. In fact, many of my interviewees expressed the same willingness to be extremely accepting of others.
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Marilee comes to mind. She amazed me with her profound expression of quiet acceptance. It was not only her family of origin that she found difficult to survive, but her marriage too. And yet she held her head high and never lost the grace with which she had been blessed. She allowed others to be who they were called to be, and acceptance became second nature to her. It was either that or be miserable all the time.
Making Different Choices: A Sign of Growth
Making a different choice about how to experience the rest of your life
is a common theme in a survivor’s journey.
Observing her from afar for many months before seeking to interview her, I saw how committed Marilee was to the fullest expression of acceptance. Her acceptance was real and total. Although she had never felt accepted in her family of origin, she developed the willingness to let them be who they were. Her love for them, as they were, was sincere. But her involvement with them was selective. She made sure she had an escape plan when a visit was necessary.
This was a common thread among the [dysfunctional family] survivors I interviewed. Regardless of how accepting they were, having a ready excuse to leave a setting became mandatory. It’s unfortunate to need an escape plan, but knowing what’s tolerable, and what isn’t, is a sign of growth.
Acceptance Is Essential to Finding Peace
Every man and woman I interviewed had developed the skill of acceptance to one degree or another. Acceptance was essential to their survival in their families and in the world around them. One has to finally give in to acceptance in order to find even a modicum of peace. Choosing acceptance over judgment requires a shift in perception that every peace-filled person has made at some time in his or her life.
Accepting others, regardless of their opinions,
their behaviors, and their prejudices
moves all the members of the human community
to a higher plane of existence.
Memories of my interviews with Nettie jump to my mind. Her husband never quit drinking, but she went from being a woman who laughingly said she contemplated homicide to one who expressed the giddiness of constant joy. Even after forty years in Al-Anon, nothing at home changed. But everything in her psyche did. That everything boiled down to one concept: acceptance. She opened her mind to the idea of letting her husband be who he was called to be. And she went on living her life, too.
Acceptance of your fellow travelers has the power to change the journey for everyone you meet today. Its power isn’t restricted to just the interchange between two individuals. It permeates the encounters both of these individuals have with everyone else too, and travels through additional encounters as well. Every good exchange is paid forward. No one, absolutely no one, is left untouched when it comes to the effect of a change such as this.
Further Reflection: What Are You Leaving Behind?
Judgment and acceptance are opposing forces. Whichever one we cultivate will decide the kind of day we will experience; the kind of future we can expect; the kind of relationships we will enjoy; the kind of legacy we will leave behind. Our life is the sum total of every idea we treasure and every action we take. We decide who we are, how we will be recalled, what will be said about us, and what, finally, will be remembered about us. Let’s make sure we’ll find pleasure in what we leave behind.
©2013 by Karen Casey. All rights reserved.
Reprinted with permission of the publisher, Conari Press,
an imprint of Red Wheel/Weiser, LLC. www.redwheelweiser.com.
The Good Stuff from Growing Up in a Dysfunctional Family: How to Survive and Then Thrive
by Karen Casey.
Is there a silver lining to growing up in a dysfunctional family? Bestselling recovery author Karen Casey looks at stories of people who grew up in dysfunctional families and "the good stuff" that can come from the experience. She interviewed more than 24 survivors of families rife with dysfunction; survivors who willingly shared their stories and came to realize they had, surprisingly, thrived as the result of their often harrowing experiences. In The Good Stuff from Growing Up in a Dysfunctional Family, Karen Casey shares the stories and the skills these survivors developed to live more creative and fulfilling lives.
About the Author
Karen Casey is a popular speaker at recovery and spirituality conferences throughout the country. She conducts Change Your Mind workshops nationally, based on her bestselling Change Your Mind and Your Life Will Follow. She is the author of 19 books, including Each Day a New Beginning which has sold more than 2 million copies. Read her blog at www.womens-spirituality.com.