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How do I cope when family life becomes too hard to deal with?

  • anonymous Asks ...

    Hi Penny
    I have been going through a few months of unbelievably difficult family drama involving extended family affecting my mother whom i love dearly and me the most but overall bad fallout on everyone.

    The issues are related to immediate family first extended family has made worse.

    The biggest 2 issues I need to deal with are my sister's manipulation for years out of jealousy, hate, resentment I can't understand where she has on purpose planting in my brother's and now possibly extended family trying to ruin my reputation and make me seem not credible to make me feel small by spreading rumours about me being delusional....this is very painful and strictly meant to manipulate.

    It has affected my relationship with my brother and because of it even after reaching out to her for a healthy respectful relationship she could not handle it for more than a couple of weeks. there is too much hate in her for me and I have decided the best thing is to cut her out of my life for good due to her going to far and continuing to try to hurt/attack my soul. This means I won't see my little niece/nephew either.

    The drama has caused my mom betray me by listening to manipulation by my uncle and his wife, but even though they have tried to distance her from me and made her weak then brainwashed her against me, she knows me better and how loyal I have been to her, so she keeps reaching out to me but I have moved out of her house and extremely hurt she turned on me because of extended family.

    she also starts drama and then my brother has attacked me for it, being intimidating, condescending and verbally abusive. I have told him to stop or there won't be any relationship; I have no issues with my brother except for what others cause between us (i.e. my sister , my mom, my cousin)

    My cousin and uncle/wife and in combination with my brother /sister caused pain for my mom but it comes down to my sister, brother havign no respect and bullying my mom.
    my sister wants play that with me and she is not being allowed; I stop her...so she has no choice but to make me seem not credible to make me sound crazy, when she has had psychopathic tendencies writing death letters to my mom as a teenager, telling my mom to go die for years and sending me numerous belittling verbally abusive manipulative notes over the years.

    My brother has never been verbally abusive to me until the recent drama has made him go a bit coocoo

    it is all based on lack of respect

    I have told my brother as long as he is harmful in his communication and making feel not safe around him there will not be any relationship
    this is very difficult for me as I love him very much and we recently traveled together with zero issues, in fact it was so good, he was telling all about how his friends/colleagues who traveled with us loved me and he was proud of me. So it is clearly created by others all this drama
    he has been reaching out to me and it has been difficult for me to talk to him as he doesnt' know how our sister and extended family have used him too to cuase issues and affect my mom's health and cause issues between our whole family, and ironically when I have tried to protect my mom, he is using me as a scapegoat for someone to blame, attack, which I don't appreciate at all.

    it's affected my life , work, and romantic relationship I am in.

    Please help
    my mom and brother at least mean a lot to me but I want this extended family and my sister to have no contact as they use any chance to cause issues between these 2 people I care about and me.

    I have a hard time even going to have a lunch with my mom or brother when they reach out to me

    I can't handle my brother lecturing me when I haven't done anything; it hurts too much. I feel like telling him to not talk about this stupid drama that has nothing to do with us, he says he wants to talk about good brother/sister stuff only, but i feel that's just to pull me back to bully me again to accept guilt for stuff others done and my blood pressure has been up and I won't put myself through that if that's where a conversation goes. there has been injury done and he doesnt' get it....

    I need to look for work right now and take care of my well being my dog and my relationship with someone special to me. :(

    how can I manage all this, it's like an avalance of problems
    only thing that has helped me cope somewhat has been this romantic partner, a couple good friends' support and meditation.

    Please help.

  • Penny Bell Says ...
    Penny Bell

    Thank you for your question – you have given me a very good picture of what’s going on with you and your family and how you are feeling in it. I can see that you have come to the end of your tether and that you want something different for your life, and I fully understand that.

    By way of responding to your question, I’ll write a little bit about family systems and how I see yours, according to the information you’ve given me, and what I think would be helpful for you.

    When family counsellors work with families that are experiencing distress, they try to look past the individual family members and view the family as a system that has its own life and energy and that has distinct patterns of operation that are often outside the awareness of the individual family members. These systems have particular attributes of cohesion, or distance and closeness, as well as flexibility, or rigidity and chaos. The level of cohesion in a family is reflected in the emotional bonding family members have with one another, and the level of flexibility is reflected in the family’s ability to permit changes in roles and rules within the family structure. Too much cohesion causes the family to be enmeshed and overly entwined in each other’s lives; too little cohesion causes members to be distant and isolated. Too much flexibility leads to chaos, and too little to rigidity - sticking to the existing spoken or unspoken rules, and stagnation. A family that is functioning well will have a good balance between stability and change (healthy flexibility) and will be together but allow separateness (healthy cohesion). A third element necessary for healthy family functioning is communication – the family’s ability to listen to each other – and this either facilitates or impedes flexibility and cohesion.

    It sounds as if your family’s system has difficulty communicating and listening carefully to one another, and family members are quite enmeshed with each other. The reason I say this is that you are feeling misunderstood, attacked, manipulated and wrongly accused by many of your family members, that the messages are being passed between family members about you (rather than directly to you), and that your family system is looking inward, so that the conversations and stories are commonly about other family members and their effects on the stability of the overall system (the effect of the behaviour of family members on other family members); there is a lot of blame, and nothing much changes over time. This is raising the levels of anxiety throughout your family system, and of course in you.

    Something that happens within families to reduce the anxiety levels is triangling, and it sounds like this is what’s happening in your family. A triangle is a 3-way relationship where the anxiety has risen between two of the family members to such an uncomfortable level that one brings in a third member to offload about it, thus distancing themselves from the member they have difficulty with and coming closer to the one they have drawn in. This in turn can create its own intensity and once again a third person can be drawn in to talk about it, and this can go on forever, especially in a family that is enmeshed.

    The way you are thinking is a family process that Family Systems Theory has identified as one way family members reduce their anxiety – distancing or at the extreme, emotionally cutting off the family members that cause them the most anxiety. This can feel wonderful at first, because the person feels relieved of the stress, and free. Down the track though it can cause other problems for the person in that they look for the closeness they’ve lost with their family in either their work or people outside the family, sometimes with disastrous results – for example, workaholism, or overwhelming friends or partner with the unmet needs from the family system.

    Having said that, I think that sometimes it can be very beneficial to pull back from the family temporarily – to obtain relief and some peace for oneself, to find your personal power again, and to find yourself again and who you are apart from your family. Sometimes in an enmeshed family this differentiation from the rest of the family isn’t completed during the teen years because of the pull of the family to continue to “be like us”, so it happens later on when that demand becomes threatening to the person’s sense of self.

    Something that you could do that would make good use of your time apart from your difficult family members would be to obtain counselling with a qualified family therapist. At some time during therapy you may have the opportunity, and feel ready, for one or more family members to come into the session with you so that you are all able to feel heard by each other in a safe environment. You may find after you have been in counselling for a while working through your family and personal issues that you are feeling stronger and are able now to reconnect with some of the folk that are distressing you at the moment – slowly, carefully and safely, of course. That way, if the family member is in your experience still too toxic for you, you can withdraw again easily.

    It’s great that you have a romantic partner that you can feel close and safe with, good friends and of course your faithful dog – these are all factors in maintaining good mental health in the face of a family crisis.

    I wish you all the best with your pursuit for peace and strong healthy family relationships.


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