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The struggle for so many recovering adults is how to interact with members of their childhood family — their parents and siblings. Cultural and family values influence the messages and feelings you received regarding family loyalty and commitment. Typically, you want to stay connected with your family. But, how do you re-enter the arena of family relationships and be true to who you are and what you believe? Your efforts may be tentative at first; you will have to learn somewhat from trial and error. Everyone’s situation is unique and every individual will need to sort through these issues in a way that is comfortable to them.
It is common to hear adults express loneliness and sadness that their recovery has further alienated them from various members of the family. When a family has not developed healthy alliances, communication patterns, etc., one family member’s recovery is often confusing for the non-recovering members.
Being with family members may mean having more superficial interactions — sharing the daily routine without intimacy, recreational interactions, carrying on family rituals. Traditional occasions may be one way to maintain connection to ones you love. Even superficial contact provides connection. Your choice (remember, you do have choices here) may be to choose this level of involvement over no involvement at all. Limited involvement in connection is okay.
It is helpful to know why you are engaging with family. Do you feel a sense of loyalty, duty, enjoyment, or love? People differ as to their history and values, which impact decisions about being loyal and dutiful. In spite of family pain, many people still feel love, and many people have found ways to enjoy certain family members. Or, are you still unconsciously seeking validation or approval?
It doesn’t seem to matter how old we are, we all want to know that we are valued by our parents. When we don’t receive validation in our growing up years, it often becomes an even more urgent, yet usually denied, need. Unfortunately, validation and approval are not as apt to be offered by sick or unhealthy parents. They are often no more capable of offering that to us today than they were when we were children. In fact, it is more likely they are now seeking that from us. So know your expectations. And ask yourself if your expectations are realistic. Are they based on hope from seeing behavioral changes, or is it possibly a fantasy?
The holiday season is approaching and this is a time for recognizing your choices about how you spend time with family.