My experience is that the teachers we need most are the people we’re living with right now. – Byron Katie
How to overcome difficult family relationships
My parents separated when I was 12 and much like many many other families, my teenage years were spent between two houses and parents who avoided, at all costs, being in the same place at the same time.
It wasn’t short after my dad left, my brother and I were introduced to our now step-mum. Although I don’t remember the exact meeting, situation or activity, I do remember vividly dad dropping his then girlfriend back to her house at the end of our day together, my brother and I sat in the back of car and her leaning over to kiss my dad goodbye; except the kiss was a statement rather than a gesture. It was passionate, sloppy, noisy and went on for longer than was comfortable.
The years rolled by and the divide between my dad, my brother and I grew even further apart. We endured years of drama, lies and woes resulting from her jealousy, possessiveness, and insecurities; not dissimilar to storylines from Soaps on TV.
Now, many years later and with a different perspective, I have realized how much I learned about myself, other people and relationships thanks to my step-mum.
Don’t Take Their Actions Personally
When I was young everything was personal. Every action my dad took or more significantly -didn’t take, back then felt personal; He didn’t love me enough, I wasn’t good enough, he preferred spending time with my step mom’s family – it felt personal that I never got time alone with my dad.
Every hostile greeting or negative comment from my step-mum felt personal. Every argument or criticism.
But what I realise now is, nothing is ever personal – other than my own reaction.
Everyone has their own shit to deal with and those internal complexities can often manifest as fears, insecurities or through positive/negative actions.
Every action or reaction someone else takes or makes is personal to them, a reflection of their own internal world, not yours.
How you react or act – that’s personal.
In that situation, nothing I did or didn’t do would have made a difference to her insecurities and possessiveness over my dad and I realise now that taking her actions personally only affected me… and made the situation worse.
The Power of Empathy
Back then I would physically feel an ache or a stab in my chest when a word was said or a meetup was canceled – my reaction was to take it personally, adopt those feelings as my own and respond with hurt, negativity, anger or distance myself even more.
Her actions and blatant manipulations would make me angry, made me hate, made me feel frustrated; and in turn became my contribution to the growing wedge and divide between my dad and me.
Looking back now and still to this day, I can see clearly and how it really is.
I genuinely feel sorry for my step-mum. I can see how insecure she is, how much she loves my dad and how desperate she is to keep hold of that love and make sure the security she gets from him never leaves her; so she is simply grabbing on with both hands and trying to protect what she feels is hers.
All the mistakes she made and continues to make, I can see now, are action she takes from a very desperate, insecure place; therefore it is impossible to fight, wrestle, resist or argue my way to change that. Distancing myself was my action, my choice and now I choose not to.
Instead, I keep my balance, watch it all unfold with my feet rooted in the ground and my arms open wide whenever my dad has the opportunity to walk towards me.
Once I’d found a place of empathy and acceptance for what was and what is, it would have been impossible to not forgive her for all the drama, to forgive my dad for his ignorance to it and to forgive myself for my part to play. Everyone was and still is doing the best with what they know.
I know now that resisting, fighting, blaming, hating was not only negatively affecting me in my day to day life but was also a contributing factor to the problem.
Holding on to resentment, carrying negative emotions and feelings from past events around with me now as an adult, only had a negative impact on my current relationships and the current state of mind – it had no positive impact on anyone and it didn’t change the past.
Finding genuine, heartfelt forgiveness for all of us has freed up so much space as what is real; the present moment.