Image by Gerhard Gellinger
I know from my own life, and as a former therapist, that family foibles and failures can be excruciatingly painful. For many of us, it takes great strength to heal from childhood wounds.
I asked my friend Anita how her Thanksgiving with family had been. Throwing back her head and laughing, she replied, “My family puts the fun in dysfunctional.” She told a few stories about the holiday, laughing as she spoke.
Hearing one experience that would have crushed me, I asked, “How can you laugh about something like that?” She told me she had gone to therapy about her childhood “stuff” and decided during one session that her family was weird, regularly mean, but they were here to stay, so around them she would “be a duck.”
Anita explained that being a duck helps protect her from absorbing their meanness as she imagines their put-downs rolling off her back. Grinning, she said, “Just so’s ya know, I have to go outside and quack sometimes to remind myself!” Wisely, Anita shared the duck-defense with her sister, and they slip outside together when needed. It’s good to have a humor-buddy when possible.
Having A Humor Connection
I’m reminded of a story I’ve shared before about my experience at the gorilla enclosure in San Diego’s zoo. A large gorilla appeared angry. He paced back and forth, growled at his enclosure mates, stared menacingly at us voyeuristic viewers, and eventually threw feces at us as he howled. We all ducked, but it was a little scary.
As we were backing away, I said, “Oh my gosh! That was just like being around Gladys!” (my sister who is no longer alive—not her real name). From then on, to gear myself up for visits that included Gladys, I’d remind myself I was going to the gorilla enclosure and better be prepared to duck.
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Having a humor connection helped me take the situation— which I had tried to change for decades and failed—more lightly. To keep myself safe, I also erected an energetic feces-free zone around me.
During your day . . .
* Acknowledge that healing lingering childhood wounds is not easy but is essential. You have the strength and wisdom to love yourself to happiness.
* Accept the fact you may not be on the same page as family members, but you are in the same library.
* Know there’s usually something “fun” to learn from families.
A dysfunctional family is any family
with more than one person in it.
Teaching Others How To Treat You
At first, the concept of me teaching others how to treat me was both challenging and liberating. Challenging because, one, I was comfortable blaming others whom I felt treated me badly, and two, I didn’t have a clue how to teach someone to treat me well.
Growing up, I was taught how to treat others, but, as I recall, the subject of teaching them how to treat me wasn’t mentioned. Thankfully, things are very different now. Kids are taught how to respect and honor others and are also shown how to insist on being treated well.
I felt liberated by the idea because it gave me the power of choice, inspired me to become more aware of what I wanted and needed, and pushed me to stand up for myself. Accepting I was in charge forced me to set limits and boundaries with family and friends and—the biggest stretch—have tough, honest conversations about behaviors that were unacceptable to me.
First and foremost, to teach others how to treat you well, you need to know you deserve to be treated well and actually do it for yourself. In other words, you need to “Do unto self as you would have others do unto you” before you are a convincing teacher. I know . . . the heart of the matter always seems to be self-love and self-compassion, doesn’t it?
Teaching others how to treat you as you deserve to be treated can enliven and enrich many relationships. However, no matter how solidly you value yourself or how cleverly and compassionately you teach others, some people won’t give a fig, others won’t want to make changes, and others won’t be able to provide what you request.
It’s still important to ask, but just because you know how to teach doesn’t mean you will always get the results you want. When teaching doesn’t work, you have other options. Do you want to continue the relationship, adapt to the parameters, or let it go?
There are nonnegotiables. For me to stay in any kind of relationship, respect and physical safety are requirements. You, undoubtedly, have nonnegotiables of your own.
Please know I’m not talking about domestic violence here. If you are in that situation, be a good friend to yourself and get help and find a safe place now.
During your day . . .
* Verbally assure yourself you deserve to be treated well.
* If you tend to be hard on yourself, notice when you’re doing so and turn the dial to a gentler setting.*Treat yourself as you wish others treated you.
You teach people how to treat you by what you
allow, what you stop, and what you reinforce.
©2019 by Sue Patton Thoele. All Rights Reserved.
Excerpted with permission. Publisher: Conari Press,
an imprint of Red Wheel/Weiser, LLC.
Strength: Meditations for Wisdom, Balance & Power
by Sue Patton Thoele
Strength is a wise and profound book that helps women deal with both the large and small bumps in the road of life. Here are over 125 meditations, stories, and musings on becoming stronger, happier, healthier, and more bodacious. Strength can be read cover to cover or more casually by choosing topics from the table of contents. Topics include: facing fear, embracing your inner Brunehilde, mirroring Jesus and Rosa Parks, sharing wisely, and knowing you're good enough is no longer enough. (Also available in Kindle format, as an Audiobook, or Audio CD.)
About the Author
Sue Patton Thoele is a licensed psychotherapist and the author of numerous books, including The Woman's Book of Courage and The Woman's Book of Soul. She lives with her husband Gene near their extended family. Visit Author's Website.