Happy Families Are Not All Alike

19 tips for harmony at home your own way

Posted Oct 17, 2014

Made by Chloe's hand

Being part of a clan, tribe or family is comforting if acceptance, understanding, protection and respect reign. A modicum of like-mindedness with interest in difference helps. Some rules (not rigid control) protect boundaries and create a sense of safety. Paradoxically, intimacy is preserved when members are encouraged to have a mind of their own while maintaining connections.

Though a few stalwart individuals rise up in spite of or even in response to troubled families, flourishing is easier with supportive kin. Disturbed family relations take different forms and can cause some psychological setbacks. These can be overcome, but it is good to understand what you are or were dealing with to be able to move on. Let’s look at some scenarios.

Some families stay tied but torment one or more members. A chronically demeaned, devalued, excluded person who has received erroneous critical feedback is at risk for shaky confidence. Dismissed or denied talents interfere with authentic development. If you are not sure about who you are and do not trust yourself it is hard to set clear goals and persevere. You might need to back out for a period to gain your footing.

Persons with disturbed character, who cannot express love, feel love, lack conscience or who thrive on sadism suffer from an emptiness that they cannot manage well. They may only be capable of forging bonds or feeling glee by having targets. Best to steer clear if you can.

Some families demand conformity. Deviation from the status quo can result in scorn, rejection and punishment. Be aware, maintain your own mind, play along if you must. It is not always useful or necessary to be get into conflicts with inflexible minds.

Another familial problem can involve ongoing empathic flaws. Empathy is a form of intelligence that combines getting it, as well as caring. It is different from sympathy, which means caring without necessarily comprehending the mental and psychological state of the other person. Sympathy is great but not as powerful or useful as empathy.

Empathic deficits can take the form of little injuries and insults over time. A constant, exasperating, futile struggle to be seen, heard, understood or respected is exhausting. Chronic tiny stabs might do more damage to a developing person than one dramatic abusive action.

Someone with a solid ego can often recover from a single, brutal assault. On the contrary, a person with a beaten down ego finds daily living a challenge. The little things are hard. They become defended, inhibited and fearful. This can be reversed with proper intervention which can range from professional help to adjustments in work, social or community life.

Often, in dysfunctional families there is a narcissistic phenomenon at play wherein authority figures revel in their “integrity,” “kindness” or superior intellect yet their cutting and clueless behavior reveals the opposite. Insensitive, limited and all -knowing individuals who do not comprehend as much as they think they do may be quite content and unaware of their obtuseness. It is those around them that suffer.

In almost 20 years of practicing psychiatry I have heard much about unhappy family life and torturous childhoods. Breaking out, breaking up and beginning anew is the best option and the greatest hope for a satisfying life if this is your lot. There are a few situations in which people truly have to cut the cord to find happiness. Friends are a fantastic alternative and can take you places you might otherwise never have gone.

But if good outweighs bad in your clan it is worth trying to stay put and build up. Family life can be the best of times. Bolstering family life – there are many different kinds of families– is a great investment because meaningful connections lead to success. If those bonds are biological, it is convenient and comforting.

Here are Nineteen Tips–actions to take together– for tighter bonds. Identify the organic tendencies of your particular family and build upon them. Create a loyal, loving, strong core group so individuals can do what they need to do.

1. Be a fan of your clan. The “gleam” in the eye goes far

2. Listen and understand before you argue

3. Stand up for your kin

4. Pursue cultural, intellectual, athletic interests together. Play music

5. Carve out sacred “just us” time

6. Socialize with others 

7. Note what fosters good interactions and keep it up

8. Maintain rituals

9. Process the bad stuff in an honest, tolerant way

10. Share stories. We need to tell, express, be heard and honored

11. Cook meals, set tables, pick greens and let people do it their way

12. Clear out junk. I am not kidding. Spontaneousn conversations and improved living spaces ensue.

13. Ask gentle, non–intrusive questions. Curiosity is a form of caring

14. Consider the trio from the Tiger Mom http://www.cnn.com/2014/02/12/living/amy-chua-triple-package/

  • Insecurity (humility)
  • Impulse Control (research shows that kids who can delay gratification do better in life) 
  • Superiority Complex(family and cultural pride)

15. Hang out, unplug. Something comes from nothing

16. Make the home a compelling place with interesting projects, some with devices, some without

17. Protect the peace and quiet when you can

18. Converse while seated. It does not have to be a family dinner. Meaningful dialogue can emerge en route to extra-curricular activities

19. Turn on NPR in the car. Comments and questions come up

 According to Bruce Feiler, author of The Secrets of Happy Families, “It turns out there's only 10 minutes of productive conversation in any family dinner. The rest is taken up with take your elbows off the table and pass the ketchup.” http://www.npr.org/2013/02/17/171929472/control-the-chaos-with-secrets-o...

In the end, it is all about being real, giving space, embracing otherness, cementing loyalty and showing up.