I have been working professionally with people for close to 40 years now, and one topic of discussion that comes up time after time is the topic of “relationships”, especially as that dynamic relates to family members.
I have given the idea of relationships a great deal of thought; how they work, why they work, if they work, what causes them to break down, and what helps them survive.
What I am going to discuss next doesn’t always happen, but often happens.
It seems to me that everyone one on the planet is writing their own autobiography, whether they are aware of it or not. In that work, people eventually get around to describing everyone they know in terms that make sense to them. Some people in their lives may get a short “one liner”. Others may get a paragraph or two, while others may get pages and pages of descriptors in the person’s attempt to paint a word picture of what “the other person” looks and feels like to them.
I will be directing most of today’s remarks to family dynamics, but the concepts could just as easily apply to any configuration of relationships that we find ourselves a part of; at the work place or with friends.
Now, as sophisticated as we like to think we are, we humans are essentially still “pack animals” in the sense that we, for the most part, live, work, and play in groups. We generally want to get along with others, we want to be “nice”, and not make waves when we are together with others, especially with family. This however, seems at times, to be much harder than it should be. Sometimes it seems the harder we try, the worse things can get. We begin to understand what Rodney King was referring to when he uttered his exasperated plea,” Can’t we all just get along?”
One of the things that we seem to do, in our attempt to “get along” is to go to the “family library” and read up on what others in the family write about us, what they think of us, how they describe us to others. Once we have educated ourselves as to how, say our sister, views us, we are better prepared to interact with her and have, hopefully, a meaningful exchange with her.
That’s all well and good, and everything is going along just fine… Then, our brother walks into the room and joins in the conversation. Now what do we do? We love our brother, we love our sister. However we have read our brother’s description of us in his book and guess what? It is similar to our sister’s description of us, but not quite. Some very major things in his page are different from what sis thinks about us and how we should act when we are together.
We want this conversation to go well but we are caught on the horns of a dilemma. If we try to act the way our brother sees us, our sister could get her feelings hurt. If we continue to act and behave the way our sister prefers, then brother will sense that he may be a “fifth wheel” and begin to act in a different way towards us and perhaps sister as well.
So how do we act? Do we change the way we speak or the way we behave? If we try to please one, we run the risk of displeasing the other. Wait a minute, we can fix this… we’ll act the way mom likes us to act… that will work! She loves all of us and we all love her; well, maybe not in the exact same way, but I’m sure at least that we all love her (this will be another post).
All the while we have been trying to figure out which “us” to be with sis, and then with brother, they have been trying to remember how to be the right “person” with each other and with us. Just as we decide on which course of action is best, in walks dad. The whole scenario now changes, and perhaps not for the better
We are all trying to get along with each other, all trying to remember what the other person expects from us, how they expect us to behave, and when dad walks in, the whole think starts all over again! Each of us start juggling the balls, that are our different personas, around like crack-crazed clowns trying to be the best juggler in the center ring of a three ring circus tent, in a vain attempt to please everyone.
Everyone ends up trying to remember how they are supposed to act when they encounter each other, instead of just BEING, and having a good time. As a result, none of us are as successful at this juggling act as we had hoped to be, and we come away possibly confused and often disappointed.
Perhaps this is one reason why family gatherings, holidays and the like, can be so stressful, and as a result of the stress, not at all what we hoped the experience would be.
Perhaps we need to change our focus. Instead of spending so much time reading what others think of us and how we should act, we should instead begin to write our own story. Perhaps we should inform the world who WE are, and how WE expect to be treated, and let others know what is in OUR best interest and highest good. Then and only then, can we begin to show our true selves to the world.
To do so, and to do so effectively, we need to concern ourselves less with that others think of us, and become concerned with what we think of ourselves; discover, or better yet, begin to remember who we really are, and instead of living the fiction of others, write down the truth of our own story word for word.
It may seem a daunting task at first, but it really is very simple, if you have the courage to pick up the pen and begin to write. It can start as simply as David Copperfield’s story began under the pen of Charles Dickens: “I was born.”