FAMILY FEUDS: How People behave doesn’t always tell us how they feel!

We have all been subject to the behaviour of people we love or respect that completely throws us.  How can they be so rude? So uncaring? How could they be so abusive? So angry? So harsh? How could they be so dismissive? so cold etc….. We could come to the conclusion that… they don’t care, they are heartless, they just use people, they don’t ascribe value to anyone but themselves.  We are basically trying to make sense of their behaviour and in doing so ascribe a ‘type’ to them and place them in a box.

To feel safer and to protect ourselves we can see the person as ‘bad’.  In psychology we sometimes call that splitting or demonising vs idolising.  When we come across behaviour directed at us that we don’t like, we may split it off.  The attacking person is then ‘all bad’ and we can’t see the other parts of them.  What if we had the capacity to hold ambivalent emotions? That is, the persons’ behaviour is bad but they are also good.

Can we determine from their actions, their behaviour, what they actually feel?  Human beings are complex creatures, I know I am one of them 🙂  External behaviour is only a small part of the whole story, it is often only a description of a defense mechanism, a coping strategy, a lack of capacity to hold or tolerate an emotion or an expression of vulnerability of a perceived threat.

When we are on the receiving end of dismissive, rejecting, humiliating, belittling  or aggressive  behaviour it is always difficult.  It surprises us, it confuses us and ultimately it hurts us.  The interesting thing is that we often respond by displaying behaviours linked to our internal emotions, just like they did to us (we mirror the same process that the ‘attacker’ used).  We withdraw, or show anger or are dismissive…

So what is the expression of anger about?

  • Anger could be feelings of vulnerability, feeling not valued, feeling used,
  • Anger could be feelings of sadness, feeling hurt, feeling rejected
  • Anger could be about fear of feeling dependent or attached
  • Anger could be an expression of a lack of capability to bear certain emotions
  • Anger could be a myriad and a combination of a number of feelings

Because we often respond to the behaviour, we are responding to an expression of something very different to the root cause.  This is how misinterpretations start as we have only considered the behaviour… and this is also how misinterpretations grow and grow and grow and grow.  We become hypervigilant and add more and more ‘facts’ to this story of who this person is.  The perpetrator.  This is how family feuds start and get entrenched in the history of the family.  The children of the children all get subject to a misunderstood history that now becomes the ‘TRUTH’ and the’FACTS’

It is a fact that not everyone feels safe enough to self-reflect, some people have an obsessional defense, a need to self-protect at all costs.   This behaviour may have been created at a young age and they may not have insight.   Without the capacity to self reflect it is hard to be authentic and have a real conversation. We need to know what is acceptable behavior and what is not acceptable.  But… we also need to develop the art of real communication, cutting through the messy emotions, not holding onto the perceived injustice as a precious toxic object and – we need to find a spirit of generosity – firstly for ourselves and then for the other.

We don’t need to fix the other, in fact we always need healthy boundaries, but we also need to go inside ourselves and look at our relationship to the other.  After all we have to live with ourselves for ever.  Both parties of the dispute should go inside themselves to find a place of understanding.  We need to rather focus on understanding our emotion behind our behaviour and then possibly we can gain insight into their emotion behind their behaviour.   Then and only then do we stand a much better chance of the issue being resolved through true communication.

Some things we can do:

  1. Awareness: We need to decide whether we want to hold onto the injustice or the resentment. Whether we want to continue to hold anger, blame and judgement of the other.
  2. Communication: This does not mean discussing the source of the feud, it means reconnecting. The feud can only be discussed once there is a healing, once there is a relationship, a connection.
  3. Boundaries: Part of the communication is to set boundaries in the relationship and the first boundary necessary is that the feud does not get discussed for at least 3 months!  There will be space to express your pain only once there is a reconnection.
  4. Spirit of Generosity to the other: You need to decide to do for yourself, even if the family member is not going to reciprocate your sentiment.
  5. Accept people for who they are, we are all flawed human beings and no one gets it all right. See the family members as people that come with their lack of capabilities
  6. Treat the other with respect and courtesy – even if they don’t show you the same respect.  Respecting someone does not mean roll over and become a doormat, on the contrary you need to maintain self respect too, however, you  don’t have to mirror their behaviour and become reactive or discharge. Be true to yourself, speak from your heart.

For the non-feuding family on the sidelines:

  • This will impact you so… Take care!!! The unease and shrapnel damage to all the family members is palpable.  Feuds have a far-reaching effect on the whole the family which means as the feud plays out the entire family is no longer at ease,
  • Typical behaviour includes one party staying away from family functions when the other party is there, missing birthdays, Christmas, even weddings and funerals.  It is sad to experience your once ‘together’ family as ‘split’
  • Allegiance is not required – you are allowed to love both sides and it is natural to feel uncomfortable in your relationship with them because this hurts you and you too are grieving – the current death of a relationship.
  • You may feel – this has gone too far, it’s just silly, why can’t they just sort it out, both parties are stubborn, they are acting like each other – however this is something they have to address,
  • Be authentic and honest and let each side know how this impacts you but ultimately the reconciliation and rebuilding is their task.

Author: Debra©2018Psych in a Box

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