Many of the people I see in psychotherapy have unfortunate families of origin. Such families contain people who can be damaging to the healing process and who can actually drag the trauma survivor back into the same dysfunctional dynamic that led to the symptoms they’re trying to eradicate with me. Yet, the survivors have a sense of obligation to them or loyalty, regardless of how hurtfully they are treated by their family members. I recognize that parents, sisters, brothers, aunts, uncles etc. are all doing their best to create families, but sometimes there is very little that can be done to change the dynamics in that system to make it better. I can help people become less reactive to the hurtful things their family of origin does to them, and I can help people become more assertive. However, the fact remains that if their family members don’t want to change (or are not ready to change), there is not much hope of having a close relationship with them. That is, there is not much chance unless the survivor wants to be disregarded, emotionally abused, blamed, ignored, or treated like a scapegoat.
It is a painful and complicated decision to know what to do about relationships that hurt more that help, whether they stem from childhood issues or from more current relationships. However, I believe that all humans are not “stuck” with the people to whom we’re blood related, if those people are not kind or respectful to us. We may feel more familiar and thus strangely comfortable with people who treat us that way, because that has been our pattern we saw growing up. Nonetheless, we can form healthier relationships with people who appreciate, value and love us in the best sense of the word NOW. We can change the patterns of relating and have healthier bonds with people who want to spend time with us, who are thoughtful and considerate, and whom we get to choose. This is what I call a family of choice: two or more people who would do anything for you, and you for them. People who reciprocate love and friendship, who are there even when everyone else turns away, and people who love you just the way you are. They’re out there… now it’s up to you (and all of us) to go and find them!