READER QUESTION #2
“When I told my siblings and parents recently that my family and I would not be going on a family vacation with them, the blowback was way worse than I expected! They all told me that I was mean, selfish, and inconsiderate. I stood up to them and tried to explain, but they refused to even listen to my reasons.
I just wanted to do something different with my time off, and just with my immediate family. We didn’t want to travel (or be in an environment that is rather stuffy and tense, and very superficial!). We wanted to have a vacation that is warm and loving and authentic. I just couldn’t do another “traditional” family vacation, dealing with all the pressure and tension that has always come with these trips. But of course, I can’t tell them that part of my reason!
Now everyone is mad at me, and I just feel miserable. I’ll feel miserable if I go, and I’ll feel miserable doing what I want. It just feels like a no-win situation for me. How can I find a way to stand my ground on this and still feel okay about it?”
ANSWER to READER QUESTION #2
Great question… and a very common situation for many people in large families! Many families have traditions such as these about how holidays and vacations are “supposed to be” spent. They have created a belief that “being all together = love” and that the unbroken observance of that tradition proves that they are a loving family – when the actual experience of the get-togethers can feel anything but loving!
When we decide that something no longer works for us and we challenge that (or any other) norm – or even when we just want to take a short break! – there will be push-back. Human beings are creatures of habit, and a fairly universal habit is to strive to maintain the “family status quo,” which shows up in many ways: rules, traditions, and even the language they use to describe family members’ behavior. Check it out: is there a word or phrase in your family that, if someone said that about you, you’d know you were in BIG trouble with the clan?
Why you get that “how dare you?!” reaction, when you’re just trying to be happy!
By unspoken agreement, in most families everyone adheres to “the way we do things.” There are usually certain family members who take on an “oversight and corrections” responsibility. It’s their role, with the added pressure of other family members, to keep the desired habits in place. They don’t like the rules to be refused or rejected – or even to feel they’re being the slightest bit challenged. The amount of pressure and “punishment” increases as the strength of the resistance grows, to try to make the rebel give up their “bad behavior.”
When we disrupt the norm in the family, we create overt discomfort. Think about the messages you’ve received in your life growing up:
- “Just go along – don’t make waves”
- “It’s no big deal”
- “Come on, you can handle it for a week”
- “This isn’t about you, this is about your family”
- “Just think about how hurt mom will be if you don’t come”
- “You can do what you want to next time”
- “Don’t upset mom and dad – they’re getting old and it’s not worth upsetting them”
- “You’ll ruin everything if you don’t go!”
…etcetera, etcetera! The list of comments that in the past have “kept you in the fold” is pretty much endless, isn’t it?
Maybe you even hear more painful and/or ominous messages, like:
“Oh, it must be your (husband, wife, partner, etc) who put you up to this, because you’d never do this on your own.”
“Since you got that new, fancy job you think you’re too good for us!”
The bottom line is, whatever message you hear, it’s all designed to keep you from abandoning the family. When you make a new decision, even if it’s one that feels healthier for you, you will in essence be seen as abandoning the group.
(Note: This is a tactic all groups use – usually completely unconsciously – to try to keep the group intact. Another variation is the black/white thinking and the “us versus them,” and “we’re in the right, and they’re clearly in the wrong” sorts of positions members are expected to adhere to. It’s very difficult to express a different opinion when the group has such a powerful, shared motivator!)
How to be happy without upsetting the apple cart?
First, give up that pipe dream! Forget trying to avoid the upset – It’s just not going to be possible. You cannot single-handedly change the traditions, or the emotions attached to them. All you can do is strengthen your boundaries and keep telling your family members that you love them, that this is something really important to your happiness and well-being, and that you’ll try to be there next time (if you think that’s a possibility; otherwise leave that part out).
Then be okay with your choice!
Take a deep breath and consider the following stanza from the famous prose poem, The Invitation, by Oriah Mountain Dreamer:
“I want to know if you can disappoint another
to be true to yourself.
If you can bear the accusation of betrayal
and not betray your own soul.
If you can be faithless
and therefore trustworthy.”
If you have spent your life taking better care of others than you have of yourself, this is a huge breakthrough moment for you (the kind we create on a regular basis in the “Take Back Your Life” group programs!).
Standing up to one’s family of origin takes courage, and once you acknowledge that you want or need to make a change, it’s far too painful to go back to old habits and behaviors. Be true to you, knowing that in the long run you’ll be much happier and at peace…and better able to love them, even if it has to be from a distance.
If you find you need some further tips and ideas for dealing with family expectations and/or upsets, I encourage you to request a complimentary 30-minute private consultation with me by filling out the form below. I’ve set aside time in my schedule specifically to help readers just like you find new ways to cope with, and feel good about, the family challenges that inevitably come up.
Don’t hesitate – you deserve to let go of that constant stress, and to feel better. In 30 minutes I can share something new with you designed to help you do just that!
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