“Ohana means family. Family means no one gets left behind or forgotten”. – Lilo & Stitch
I’ve been thinking a lot about relationships lately. Interpersonal problems are often at the focus of my work, what my clients are experiencing. What I am often experiencing in my personal life as well. It affects us all. “No man is an island” is a quote that sometimes comes to mind. Although it may sound lovely at times to exist on that island alone, I believe the quote to be true. Throughout our day we are interacting with other people – our family, friends, strangers, co-workers, managers, customer service representatives, etc. I hear most often about the problems that arise at work and at home.
I’m a big believer that we have become who we are by way of our family of origin. It is not a life sentence. It is not impossible to change who we become. But it makes sense that we would view and react to the world through the influence of who was around us in our formative years – parents, siblings, extended family, teachers, and friends. I see it so often, how much pain and suffering we hold onto from incidents that have occurred and relationships we have formed during our childhood and adolescent years. Often we struggle most with the relationships (or lack of relationships) with our parents. Our parents are supposed to love, support, and care for us. They are supposed to be there no matter what we do, or who we are. At least that’s what our culture tells us. So what happens when they aren’t? What happens when parents or care-givers abuse and/or neglect us as children? What happens when they aren’t there for us as adults?
I’m reminded of something that was said to me a few years ago by a good friend who is also a therapist. She reminded me that you can’t go to the refrigerator and expect to pull out a hot meal. It’s not that the refrigerator has something wrong with it; it’s just not possible. That’s what dealing with people can be like. Especially with our families, we want to be seen and heard. We want to matter. We want love and attention. And we deserve it. But there may be some people in our lives that are never able to give us that hot meal. It’s just not possible. And that doesn’t mean that there is anything wrong with us. It doesn’t even necessarily mean that something is wrong with them. It just is.
As adults, we can choose who we have in our lives. We can choose the people who get to be in the inner circle. Blood relatives do not get a free pass. If someone is your life is abusive or neglectful, or if someone in your life causes you more pain and suffering than happiness, maybe it’s time to re-evaluate the relationships. How close are they? How much of a priority are they to you and you to them? Relationships can not always be completely equal, but if you are feeling exhausted by someone most of the time you are dealing with them then it’s not even close. Surround yourself with people who stimulate you, bring you joy, and feed your soul. Create space and boundaries with the people who do the opposite. Create your own family! One of my favorite movies is one I’ve quoted at the beginning of this post – Lilo & Stitch. Besides Stitch being adorable, it’s a very heartwarming story about how we create our family, and how that doesn’t always fit the stereotypical mold. Watch this movie, especially if you have kids!
Journal prompt: Who is in my inner circle? Am I receiving as much as I am giving? What would my relationships look like if this was true? How would my life be different if all my relationships were reciprocal?
Resources: The Invisible Scar (blog/website regarding family) & Emotional Vampires: Dealing with People Who Drain You Dry (highly recommended reading for dealing with many kinds of difficult people!)