ASK ABDI: HOW TO HEAL FAMILY DYNAMICS?

QUESTION: I am writing to you for some advice, to be a “pointer” perhaps of confirmation that I am on the right path to something. I am composing an email to my father and mother. I will try to be as brief as possible, but want to explain the situation I am trying to understand and heal in my own life as well as offer real insight at this “opportune” moment, so that perhaps others may find real transformation too.

This was followed by a detailed description of family dynamics and roles with ensuing painful outcomes.

My father is writing to me, “Are we such terrible parents?!” They see all the bad relations going on in the family and feel responsible, I guess. And this brings such sadness to me. I feel their suffering and I deeply sense my parents struggling and trying to figure this all out. They are quite spiritual people, so it’s not like they haven’t done some internal work. Yet, we all have shadows to look at, don’t we? I am writing back to my parents, and I’d love your input as to whether I am on the right track at all, as this is what I feel. How can I, from afar, shift this “shadow” into REAL healing and transformation? There’s no question that even though I am fairly healthy and live a nice life, these family issues still affect me, I still feel the sadness, the pain this week with my oldest sister’s situation, and the "not worthy enough” feelings come up even as I continue to look honestly. Any advice or anything you can offer is greatly appreciated. 

This was followed by a detailed email to the parents.

ANSWER: Healing family dynamics is tricky business since regardless of our clarity, we are always intertwined in ways beyond our ability to see. The first thing I want to point out is that in your 96 lines of description of your family dynamics, only four in the beginning and five in the end are truly about your experience, your pain, your suffering.

You have insight into your siblings and parents. You have worked arduously at staying conscious. Where is your role in the family drama? How do you get hooked in? What was your assigned role and how much of that have you shed? Family dynamics can be viewed as a roof being held up by many walls and functions. Some of us are given and take on weight-bearing wall roles that crush us with responsibility. Some of us take on the chimney wall role, where all the soot goes through us. Some, the garbage disposal unit wall, and others the grand entrance archway, where we are always expected to awe others. All of these roles sap vitality and doom us to dancing to some other person’s tune instead of finding our own song.

In such dynamics, all we can do is to move our wall. That, in itself, will force the whole structure to shift, even though many times others will steadfastly hold on to their own roles. Besides that, helplessness is our true medicine. One can never underestimate another person’s attachment to their assigned role and the ensuing suffering. We have to be willing to let others experience the life of their choosing. As you know with your own work, even with willingness and hard work, it can take decades to change our patterns.

When people reach out to us and give us permission, then we can share our piece. Even then, we have to let it go if we find resistance. Your parents asked you and you responded. A suggestion in these matters is to address everything from your experience, as opposed to taking anyone’s inventory. “This is how I felt, my experience is... etc.” This is both more honest as well as less confrontational. I reflect back a piece of your own letter to your parents that is brilliant and good advice for your own process:

“So, I guess the healing begins with us. Where can we forgive, where can we forgive ourselves? And then just be there for others if they too have a change of heart. Be there for help and support, but ultimately, others make their own choices.”