Family is where you need to learn and should have been taught how to think for yourself, express yourself, and how to be confident that what you think may be the right way to go. Instead, many of us learn that speaking up against a family member or not going along with the family as a whole is disloyal and that that equates to “You don’t love me.” Not feeling loved by a family member can be traumatic. Not only do you suffer a great deal from this rejection, you are likely to become alienated from other family members to the extent that you have none left. I’m talking about aunts, uncles, cousins, and grandparents. You will also acquire an increased amount of anxiety, especially when a family member emotionally attacks you if you attempt to disagree. You can forever exist in an “underdog” position or you can do something about it.
DEVELOPING A STRONG SENSE OF SELF
Loyalty to family members who “gang” up on you results in a lower, unhealthy differentiation. That is so unfair! You definitely don’t feel good about yourself. But it is something you can control. I wrote about differentiation in a previous post but wanted to explain it in more detail. Cami Osten says it best, a “high level of differentiation means a strong sense of self.” When you are able to take actions that you are comfortable with, not because you are being coerced, and that are in the family’s best interests, you are using your intellectual skills and displaying confidence.
When I was an undergraduate student at the University of Florida, taking my first class in the upper division, a graduate-student instructor asked the class to individually propose three improvements for the campus. I stood up feeling confident that I had three good ones, and after I presented each, she would put them down. Yes, I was devastated, feeling shame and embarrassment in front of my fellow students, and I was extremely disappointed in this type of treatment. I chose to react this way, but I did not know that then. A healthier reaction would have been thinking that she didn’t know what she was talking about and that she had not learned how to communicate to students. I am happy to report that as time progressed, all three ideas were implemented—not as a result of my introducing them, but because they just happened to be good solutions to the problems that I had identified.
So, what were the instructor’s options that might have resulted in a better outcome for me and for the other students? She could have asked, “How did you arrive at that conclusion?” Or said, “That is a solution that might work.” Or she could have offered her own solution to the problem by saying, “How do you think this solution would work.” Truth is that she probably lacked a solution. Had my level of confidence been higher, I might have said, “I regret that you don’t think my ideas would work. Do you have any of your own?”
We expect teachers to be leaders, just as we expect parents to be leaders and teachers. I was 30 years old at the time, married with two children, and I later analyzed her behavior and decided that she might have had many problems with her own mother and without thinking recast me in the unenviable position of a substitute mother. Whether or not that was true I will never know, but it sure as heck made me feel better! And that is an example of alternative thinking.
GETTING ALONG WITH FAMILY
Alternative thinking is a great solution to practice when you are offended by a family member. This is really another way of giving the person the benefit of the doubt. We don’t always understand what is behind their way of thinking, but it is good to imagine and consider it. It can be healing. Have a conversation with yourself: Did I really understand what the person was saying to me? Was she trying to be helpful or mean? What else could she have meant?
Learning to express yourself whether in your family or not is something that should have started there, and I covered how to do this on my Aging Gracefully page.
Any problem, big or small, within a family, always seems to start with bad communication. Someone isn’t listening.
Healthy Disagreement. Disagreement does not mean hate, does not mean disrespect, and does not mean superiority. People who chose to look at disagreement in this manner are close minded, to say the least, and a person with a highly developed sense of self does not view disagreement in this manner. This is a problem with communication. If you have trouble communicating, practice disagreement by giving and receiving it, by learning how not to overreact to it and by understanding that disagreement is extremely healthy. If you discontinue relationships because of disagreement and an inability to communicate, you have committed a most egregious act to yourself and to others. You have put others on the spot, causing them to be fearful around you. We all need to be willing to say, “We can agree that we disagree” and move forward. But sometimes it is just not that simple.
So, what are some good ways to disagree without offending someone?
Listen and make sure you understand what they are saying first. Paraphrase by repeating back to a person what you understood him or her to say. “Let me see if I understand…” Listening shows respect, love, and the desire to want to understand what another person is thinking.
Be prepared with knowledge of the situation and the facts surrounding it. This might require a little work on your part, like researching or talking to other people first to get an even better opinion.
Always lend credence to the other person. Telling them that they don’t know what they are talking about is a good way to bring about harm. You have lost without going further.
Don’t yell and scream. Calmly explain why you disagree and state that you have a different way of looking at it.
Both parties should either be sitting down or standing up unless one is in a position of authority. Even if someone is in a position of authority, it helps to keep things on an even keel. If you are the one initiating the conversation it is easier to assume the position the other person has.
Try to give the other person the benefit of the doubt. Rather than say, “You did such and such,” say “I understand that you want to…” or “I wanted to express…” or “I feel…” “I know you meant well, but I…” or “I think differently about…” That is your way of taking responsibility without accusing the other person of wrongful doing or thinking. He may be right, or wrong, or just simply different!
Consider the results of immediate disagreement. If you cannot freely communicate with another without fear of reprisal, be aware of this and consider what your response might be to reduce the friction. Thinking ahead can save the situation if the other party gets upset. “Maybe we need to have this conversation another time.” “I feel bad about upsetting you, but I think I am entitled to an opinion.” This can be soothing to the other person and a way to gain agreement for you to continue. Some people consider disagreement as immediate dislike for their person. You are disagreeing with an idea, leaving the person intact.
Armed with the knowledge that you can achieve the above results, you should be feeling very good about yourself right now. Practicing it will help you to feel more confident and will engender the respect you deserve. Continue to set boundaries, when people don’t appear to know that you have them, and you will sail through abusive situations. If you absolutely cannot achieve resolution with a particular person who continues to be a thorn in your side, it is okay to live your life without that person. You will be so much better off.
“There’s folks you just don’t need. You’re better off without em. Your life is just a little better because they ain’t in it.”
― William Gay
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