Perhaps the most significant wounds for us to heal are ones relating to our biological families. For this reason, I'm using "we" because this is truly a universal, human issue. It's especially pronounced in this time where old paradigms that try to restrain our conscious evolution are crumbling.
Relationships break down when the family culture sets conditions for love and acceptance—requirements every member knows are present whether they are voiced openly or covertly. Dysfunction in familial relationships happens when members who claim to love us believe that we must be like them in order to be “right” in the world.
Being “right” in conventional tribal thinking has many layers of meaning depending on the culture. A primary one that is often present across the board is the belief that we must conform to familial norms to be safe. The downside is that the standards to which we are pressured to conform are often based in fear, which does not create fertile ground for healthy growth and bonds.
Family members who push for conformity may do so for protective reasons; however, no one flourishes under those conditions. Feeling we must change or hide who we are to be loved and accepted thwarts our well-being and undermines our inherent nature to thrive. When we conform to be accepted, we are not safe. We simply make a disavowing trade—personal abandonment for familial acceptance. The same is true with our families of friends or work families. Betraying ourselves to be accepted in any situation will not lead to trusted and fulfilling relationships. For this discussion, though, let’s continue with our root tribe.
Relationships formed by name and obligation without trust to reveal one’s authentic self ends up vitiated by buried secrets. Whatever is feared to be judged and criticized is often hidden, and what we hide owns us. We spend so much energy trying to maintain an acceptable story line that we cheat our lives—an unwarranted arrest from the ultimate experience of true freedom.
When family members judge each other’s differences, neither the individuals or the relationships are free—open to expressing freely, open to feeling heard, open to sharing diverse points of view without rejection. Our growth and bonds are diminished when we narrow our focus to one perspective—our own that we deem as “right.”
There is no real freedom in betraying our very existence—our true nature, our authentic loves and inclinations for the sake of acceptance. Inevitably, we whither with anger and resentment the longer we abandon ourselves and each other for our differences. At best, familial relationships may retain surface cordiality, but they will not thrive in the way every heart truly desires. Facades work well for movie sets, but they will never create healthy, functional homes in life.
Though we might agree that fake-polite interactions are better than aggressive conflict, let’s not overlook the pain of superficial pretenses or underestimate the depth of wounds that can form below peripheral pleasantries. We know when we’re not truly accepted; it’s a feeling that underlies every exchange and speaks louder than words. That dynamic is painful, and commonly, we don’t feel safe to be completely authentic in the presence of cultural rigidity—outspoken or inferred.
In case there is any ambiguity, this discussion is about addressing our differences that pose no emotional or physical threat to anyone. Setting a healthy boundary and rejecting someone’s hurtful behavior is a different nuance, not to be equated with non-threatening lifestyle and ideology differences. Though people may act as if they are threatened by someone’s contrasting views, the truth of it can be realized by answering this question with complete honesty.
Is your well-being threatened, your free will strangled, or your ability to grow revoked because of a family member’s different ideology or lifestyle?
Be sure to go deep with that reflection, because fear can influence a belief that someone’s differing ideology can actually impede our authentic power and creatorship.
I’ve heard people say things like he or she hurt me when the actual events proved otherwise. In every case, my conversations with various clients followed a similar thread. At first, they were staunch in being right about being hurt by another, and then I invited them to look with absolute honesty at their perceptions. Eventually, most of them admitted feeling let down because of unmet expectations. Their internal responses to others’ differing choices created their pain. Their suffering came from what they said to themselves about the other, not from anything that was actually “done” to them.
What was really true?
They hurt themselves emotionally with judgments of the people they claimed to love. Then they projected that anguish onto the relationship, damaging it further by acting victimized and employing guilt as another means to get expectations met.
Being 100% honest, we can admit that we’ve all been both characters—the “judged” and “judger,” the “guilted” and the “guilter.” It’s hell, not Love, on each side; and the only way out is up. If we want to live Love, we must up our game from shaming and blaming to acknowledging and accepting our innocent differences.
Innocence is being who you are, joyfully, without regret. It is living without need to manipulate situations or people for personal gain. The purity of innocence is soul-fully moving and magnetizing—a rich foundation upon which to build healthy relationships. It’s a quality of unconditional Love each of us deserves—one that embraces peoples’ innocent interests, desires, and dreams, regardless of how they may differ from our own.
Remember, this post focuses on the dynamics of the root family: parent, child, and sibling relationships. In the case of marriages and intimate partners, there are many more layers to address the complexities of building lives together under one roof. Differences that can be accepted in one’s parents or siblings will not necessarily apply to what one can live with in an intimate partnership. That’s a long discussion for a different day.
So, back to the parent-child-sibling tribe…
How do we address painful disparity in the family dynamic in a way that is more than simply coping? By that I mean truly healing emotional wounds at the root. There are various ways, and, for today, I’m offering four foundational ones. If you focus on the stories of peoples’ words and actions, you’ll get distracted chasing symptoms rather than healing the core issues.
Acknowledge. Release. Recognize. Protect.
1. Acknowledge that fears and suffering are guide points for healing. What is revealed is healed when we attend to it consciously. Embracing our pain with loving presence is the only way to heal it. The emotions/fears that are triggered in us reveal what we don't love and accept about ourselves. Knowing that, we immediately shift the intensity of pain, seeing it not as a permanent infliction but an opening through which we can heal it for good.
2. Releasethrough open-ness. Healing can only happen with open-ness. A closed system will not come back into balance since it creates stagnation rather than movement. A faucet comes to mind as a helpful metaphor. When the valve is opened, water flows. It is released. So, a supportive visualization might be to imagine opening a valve of where you feel pain and see it flow out and away from your being. Let it flow until you sense, feel, or see it run clean.
We often hear of forgiveness, which may be helpful for some. In working with hundreds of people over the past two decades, I have found that most people struggle with forgiveness for many reasons. Some feel that forgiveness means letting someone off the hook who doesn’t deserve it or conceding that the person was justified in what they did. Others feel vulnerable to being hurt again if they forgive.
The list is vast, in my experience, of reasons people tend to repel from forgiveness. People often say, “Well, I should probably forgive them, but I’ve just not been able to do that.” Some have set conditions for forgiveness such as a requirement to receive an apology. There’s a hitch in that dynamic, however. If an apology never comes, then what?
If forgiveness is a struggle, drop it and reflect on simply releasing instead. Releasing is flow that doesn’t carry emotional baggage of belief systems commonly intertangled with cultural definitions tied to concepts of forgiveness.
Releasing is simply an inside job between me, myself and I. It involves giving loving attention to our hurts and deciding to open the valve so that the toxic build up can drain away. Self-healing does not require bringing others into the process. If someone rams into you and you need stitches, you don’t clean the wound by assigning blame to the perpetrator. No, you get sterilized stuff to clean it and create the best conditions for it to fully heal.
The equivalent of using sterilized tools in emotional release is keeping your process free of blame or analysis of who’s right. Effective healing is removing the dirt of judgments (theirs or ours) and guiding the flow of disharmonious muck out of your being. Intuitively, you’ll know when it’s done.
3. Recognize, people are doing the best they can do right now. I had a client push back to this saying, “Bull sh*t, he knew better and did it anyway!” Knowing better, unfortunately, has little influence on doing better. No doubt, we can all remember things we did (and likely regretted later) even though we knew better. I knew in college that eating a pint of ice cream before bed, regularly, was not a choice that would support my weight loss goals. These kinds of choices happen on every level from the small stuff to the serious.
Knowledge is gaining information; wisdom is applying it and that comes with maturity—evolution of consciousness. It’s consciousness, not information gathering, that ultimately guides our choices. Being conscious allows us to recognize that we’ve all behaved unconsciously along the way, and that shared experience helps us have compassion for each other’s journeys. For me, recognizing this and having some level of compassion was easier than trying to force myself into the concept of forgiveness.
No matter what you choose to call it, we’re trying to get to the same place—freedom from anger, resentment, blame, etc. The first step is finding guiding words that your mind doesn’t fight against. If you’re like me, release and recognize, may feel more “doable” than forgiving. Once the mind surrenders to the healing process, you can relax into your heart where self-healing really happens.
Finally, releasing pain and having compassion is not a set-up to be walked on. It just means we lay our burdens down, not our wise discernment about setting healthy boundaries.
4. Protectwhat is sacred to you. This means giving space between you and someone who is dishonoring you, criticizing, or dampening your dreams. It’s not our business to change others, but it is our business to honor ourselves by protecting that which is sacred to us. When emotional invasions happen, rinse and repeat the first three steps, and the fourth one, too, when needed.
This is powerful work, and when you dare to embrace it with all your gorgeous self, your life changes in ways you can’t imagine. When family members commit to this process, even a little bit, renewed vibrant life begins to return to the home.
May we attune to the Infinite One we are in perfect unity, now and always.