Every spring, many of my young adult psychotherapy clients go home to reconnect with their families over the Passover or Easter holidays, and return with more or less the same question: “How to do I maintain my peace of mind and self-respect and still remain connected to my family (who either don’t understand/accept me or whose behavior I find challenging)?”
From a psychological perspective, it’s one of the most important questions a person can ask, and one that some people spend their whole lives trying to answer, especially if they come from dysfunctional families. Staying true to ourselves while negotiating significant relationships with people who don’t always share our ideas or values is the key to getting along with others, whether among our intimate circles or society at large. And coming to terms with our family relationships affects all our other relationships.
When the stress of relating with family is too much to bear, people generally cope in one of two ways. Either they distance themselves, emotionally and/or physically, or they suppress who they are to avoid rocking the boat.
Neither of these solutions really works in the long-term. Distancers often perpetuate this pattern in other intimate relationships, checking out when times are tough. Alternatively, suppressers remain developmentally stunted so long as they are unable to know or express what they truly think and feel, and often lose themselves in intimate relationships.