My family has gone through a very rough few years.
The pandemic didn’t help, but the issues started long before that.
For my part, I’ve always felt unseen, disrespected and out of place, like I struggle to make my voice heard at all.
But several weeks ago I woke up and realized something truly jarring and disturbing.
The number one problem in my family isn’t my emotionally absent dad, my helicopter mom, my disrespectful relatives or my cousins I’ve fought with.
The problem is me.
1) You start fights in your family
I’m ashamed to say that I start unnecessary fights in my family. I do it quite a bit, and I used to be even worse.
I’m the youngest in my family, with two older sisters, a father and a mother. My siblings and I are all in our early 30s and get along most of the time, but not perfectly.
Tensions seem to usually crop up with my mom most of all, because she is argumentative and often complains about money.
Somewhere along the line, getting back together with my family and talking to them became a burden. It’s actually really sad.
Realizing that I start a lot of arguments and fights that are totally unnecessary has been really sad, too.
2) You continue fights that could be left by the wayside
It’s not only that I start fights in many cases, it’s that I keep them going.
Reflecting on my behavior I notice that when I’m annoyed or feel unheard I’ll bring up a point of tension and get a simmering argument from last week or last month going again.
The most recent tension has been on trying to coordinate our holidays for a trip as a family.
I keep bringing up criticisms my mom has been making of my one sister who doesn’t earn much and then stirring that pot.
The result is that my sister gets resentful about pricier trip options and gets annoyed at my mom with my other sister and me kind of refereeing and my dad trying to stay out of it.
Why do I do this? Reflecting on it I’ve realized that I must have built up a pattern of expecting drama in my family and then subconsciously perpetuating it.
3) You focus on divisions instead of common ground
This is the thing: I’ve realized that it’s me who automatically focuses on the divisions in our family in many situations.
Even when I could just relax or have an enjoyable time talking to my parents or one of my sisters, I seem to focus on the negative.
I’ve come to realize that early childhood tensions where I felt somewhat overlooked and neglected led to me seeking attention by creating and perpetuating drama.
In other words, I got an early habit of stirring sh*t up to feel like people cared about me.
And I’ve been continuing it as an adult.
4) You put no energy into staying in touch with family
Now I mentioned talking to my family and usually focusing on negative stuff, which is true.
But the thing is I barely ever talk to family members either.
I answer a call that comes in, but as I gained independence and moved out on my own, including to a nearby city where one of my sisters and my parents live, I’ve also distanced myself from staying in touch.
I’m a little closer to my other sister, but I still more or less put very little effort into actually talking, meeting up, celebrating special occasions like birthdays and so on.
My dad recently retired and we had a barbecue for him at my parents’ place with many colleagues and friends of his.
I realized I hadn’t talked to my mom in two months! And my sisters felt like strangers.
We all have busy lives, it’s true.
But I can definitely say that definitely was not a good feelings…
5) You focus on past issues in your family instead of a better future
One of the challenges I’ve had in life, including in my past in my relationship with my girlfriend Dani, is that I focus a lot on past issues.
My bitterness builds up, and I get lost in the tangle of issues and resentments from the past.
Lately I’ve been working to untangle the mess and find a way to let my roots grow in the mud of my life.
I’m not saying my life is all that bad, it’s quite good really!
But realizing how much my mind has been creating suffering for me and others by being stuck in the past has been like a giant wake up call.
It’s become such a cliche to say to “live in the present,” and I do think that the past matters and sometimes thinking a lot can be good.
But overall, the power of the present moment is huge if you learn how to tap into it and not let the past overshadow you.
6) You expect people in your family to always take your side
I’ve always been closer with one of my sisters as I mentioned. I find myself a bit emotionally distant from mom and dad and often being a bit detached.
When I’ve had serious issues, however, I’ve expected everyone in my family to take my side.
For example, I had a relationship that got very toxic in the past before Dani.
My family was split on me breaking up or staying with this woman, but I was in love. Or at least I thought I was.
I was really resentful that my mom was urging me to breakup and so was my dad. I felt like they should be supporting me no matter what because they’re my family.
Looking back I can see that they just wanted what was honestly best for me, and that sometimes it takes the people closest to you to tell you the hard truth about things that are going on and their perspective on it.
7) You consider members of your family to ‘owe you’ due to past injustices
This ties into point six:
I expect my family to take my side and do things for me because of injustices I feel from the past.
I was the youngest, and in some ways the black sheep:
They owe me.
The thing about feeling that people owe you is that it disempowers you.
Because here’s the thing:
Even if they actually do owe you, it would mean you’re dependent or waiting on people other than you to provide something that you don’t have or want more of.
That puts you in a weak position.
Furthermore, if we all go through life thinking about what we’re “owed” we become bitter, resentful and counterproductive.
Take a quick look at people who succeed and have positive family relationships:
They don’t hold grudges and they don’t score-keep. Trust me, that’s a losing game.
The more you focus on what you’re owed or keeping score, the more you get stuck in the addictive cycle of the victim mentality.
Speaking of which…
8) You cling to a victim mentality with regard to your family experiences
The victim mentality is addictive.
In a family it can drag everyone down and make even the most neutral situations full of tension and tears.
I’ve realized that I’ve been playing the victim for years.
I felt neglected growing up and overshadowed by my two sisters. Fine. But I’ve clung to that and used that as the prototype for everything after.
For decades now I’ve been playing out a script where my family doesn’t care about me and I’m not appreciated.
But the thing is…
That’s not true!
I do feel I got a bit overlooked growing up, but my parents have already addressed that with me and made it very clear they love me and support me in my career and personal life.
Why do I insist on playing the victim? It’s an addiction, and it’s an addiction I intend to break.
True power and healthy relationships and connections is on the other side once you bust through the victim mentality completely.
9) You expect to be paid for and looked after by family members
This hasn’t been my case, as I became self-sufficient fairly early on in my early 20s. At least financially self-sufficient.
But for many people who do have a big issue in their family, it can tie into freeloading.
That’s when you expect your family to always be your monetary backstop and bail you out of any situation you get yourself in.
This goes much further than just moving back in with your parents if you have a bad break up or run into money troubles.
It goes to having low motivation in general or believing deep down that your family will always be there to pay for what you need.
This is essentially a form of what I mentioned before in feeling your family “owes” you.
They love you (hopefully!) yes, but why exactly should a, say 30 or 35-year-old be expecting family members or parents to pay for their necessities or crises in life?
10) You influence family members to engage in unhealthy or dangerous behaviors
I’m a little guilty of this one:
Being a bad influence on family.
I advised dad to invest in something that went really sideways and never really owned up to my role in convincing him.
I also used to go out drinking a lot with my one sister in ways that interfered with her relationship and led to a drunken broken wrist one night walking home from a nightclub.
Small things, maybe…
But your family is really important to respect. When you influence your family, try your best to make it in a positive way.
11) You consistently fail to support and be there for your folks who are going through a hard time
Thinking of my behavior around my family for many years makes me sad.
But the reason I’m focused on it is because I honestly want to improve.
Realizing that I’ve failed to be there for family members in crisis has been really difficult and I’m ashamed of that.
My dad had a health crisis a few years ago, and other than a few visits I don’t feel like I was there for him emotionally or literally in the way I should have been.
My sister also went through a divorce recently, and I know I’ve been way more absent on that and on checking in on her than I could be.
I want to do better.
12) You find yourself venting or taking out frustration on relatives
I’m not proud to say that part of my realization that I am the problem in my family came when I reflected on how I actually treat my close family and relatives.
I take them for granted, like I’ve written about here.
But I also recall many times I basically vented to my parents and other relatives, including one uncle I used to be closer to.
Family stays close and loves you, but it’s not fair to use that love and bond as a blank check for just unloading all your stress.
I wish I’d realized that sooner before estranging some members of my family.
Mending broken branches
Russian writer Leo Tolstoy famously said “all happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”
Maybe it’s presumptuous of me to disagree with the guy who wrote “War and Peace,” but my experience has been a bit different.
The thing is: my family is happy. At least they seem to be, and we mostly get along fine.
It’s me who’s not happy in my family and who feels ignored and unappreciated by them.
It’s taken me a while to realize that a lot of that feeling of being overlooked was actually being caused by me withdrawing myself and pushing family away.
Without even realizing it, I was self-sabotaging and then playing the victim.
Getting my ego out of the way a bit and looking objectively at how I’ve been behaving, I’ve been able to start on a new path forward that’s a lot better and more effective.
It’s not easy to admit, but recognizing that I was the problem in my family has actually been a relief.
I’ve been able to lower my expectations of certain family members, think of positive ways to begin contributing more and to find a sense of really being motivated and loving my family.
There’s a long way to go, but the change I’m already seeing by taking responsibility and focusing more on giving than on what I receive, has been remarkable.