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Exploring Womanhood > Relationships > Articles

Surviving A Dysfunctional Family
Ten Ways to Make Peace With the Past and Create a New Future
By Suzanne Gold

Everyone comes into life with a purpose. You are a unique expression of the universal life force at the foundation of your physical form. Spirit guides you from the moment your life begins, and the people and events of your life reflect your spirit's journey. No one else ever has or will affect the world as you do. With every act, word or thought, you are adding to All-That-Is.

Your family is your first and most influential bond. What you learn from them colors the the way you see yourself and the world. As a child, your physical helplessness makes you dependent on the people closest to you for survival. Too often those relationships are destructive instead of supportive. The family you join already has tendencies: patterns, beliefs, and attitudes which they expect you to share. Going along gets you what you need, so you adapt to fit in. But when you ignore your instincts, you don't feel right. You create the opposite of what you intend.

The good news is you don't have to be a victim of your upbringing. Although a dysfunctional family can crush your self-esteem, confuse you, and wreck your relationships, the distortion of your natural instincts can be reversed. Your problems can show you what you don't want and inspire you to go after what you'd rather have, so you can set yourself free to become the person you want to be and create the life you dream of.

Surviving a dysfunctional family doesn't necessarily mean getting along better with your relatives. You make peace with the past by treating difficult situations, thoughts, and feelings as opportunities to unravel the knots in your heart and mind that keep you from realizing your dreams. You create a new future by drawing on your innate wisdom to help you overcome obstacles and achieve your goals. When you do your best, you tap into a power that's been within you all along, in even the worst circumstances, even when you weren't aware of it.

No matter what happens, trust that what you go through will enlighten you. Don't be discouraged. The most important thing is dedication to trying new things and learning from your experience. Change doesn't happen overnight; it comes little by little, more and more, deepening your ability to love, create, and make a difference personally and in society.

So how do you go about doing this? Here are ten ways to spark change in your life and relationships:

  1. SET A NEW COURSE
    Finding your own preferences

    Your new course is first an internal one, which paves the way for external changes. If you're not satisfied with your life as it is, start by imagining that it can get better. What happens in your life is largely up to you, so make it a priority to figure out how to create what you want.

    Take time every day to think about what you want. Be willing to try new things. Pay close attention to ideas and feelings that light you up. Courage is accepting reality as it is and working with it to create what you want. Allow yourself to feel excited about your possibilities. What you dedicate yourself to, you can create.

  2. TRUST YOUR INTUITION
    Tapping into your inner wisdom

    When you hear the "little voice of wisdom" inside, listen. Within you is a guidance system that makes itself known through your ideas and emotions. Trust it. Life can be confusing, and some people do try to manipulate you in devious ways. If something doesn't feel right, it may mean that it's not for you.

    Wonder about why not, and what you'd like instead. Give yourself the benefit of the doubt. Your instinct leads you to where you need to go at the perfect moment for the best results. Stand your ground. Believe in yourself in the face of criticism. No one else can tell you what you need or want. Have good intentions. Don't second-guess yourself. Do what you think is best at the moment.

  3. LOOK FOR A SILVER LINING
    Developing a positive attitude

    Spirit underlies everything. You are part of the universal creative energy. You didn't come here to prove your worth or to find a problem and fix it. You came to express your talents and abilities, to realize your dreams. What you experience depends on how you look at it. How you interpret things plays a large part in shaping your behavior and how others treat you. Search for the positive. Focusing on the negative dulls your energy and ability to cope.

    No matter how bad a situation seems, find something in it to appreciate. Ask yourself, what good could come from this? What can I learn here? The answers you get show you what to do next. You already have inside you the resources to make peace with the past and create a new future. You just have to learn how to use them.

  4. TAKE A STEP BACK
    Separating motivation from unconscious patterns

    Be on the lookout for destructive habitual patterns. Noticing is the first step to breaking them. Don't fight them, just observe your thoughts and feelings. The deeper you go, the more you unravel the stuck places in your heart and mind. Bring spirit into the process by inviting metaphysical help in any form that works for you.

    Be influenced by others' opinions only if they inspire you. Criticism may be only an automatic response based in the critic's own fears. You don't have to convince anyone of your right to have your life as you want it.

  5. WATCH WHAT YOU SAY
    Developing effective communication

    Tell the truth. Be kind. A little goes a long way. Speak carefully. Emphasize the positive. Say good things, especially to yourself. Be aware of your effect on others. Don't assume you're being understood; check it out. When you realize you've made a mistake, apologize, face to face if possible so you can look the other person in the eye. Don't interrupt. Don't give advice unless you're asked. Don't gossip. It wastes time you could be using to empower yourself.

    Choose your battles. If someone gets angry at you, stop doing whatever triggers them no matter how right you think you are, until you can find a better way to communicate. Why make yourself a target? Know when to shut up or decline to answer. Watch what you listen to. Don't dismiss different points of view. Pay attention not only to what someone says; try to understand why they're saying it. Don't put up with disrespect, manipulation or negative thinking from anyone, including yourself.

  6. DON'T KEEP SCORE
    Setting your own standards

    Life isn't about success or failure. Although both teach valuable lessons, fulfilling your potential is the essential goal. Adversity can develop strength. If a dream sours, let it go without judgment or remorse. Assume it's no longer relevant, and look for new options. Even a losing battle can be a stepping-stone to a better situation. Accepting change brings peace of mind.

  7. NO VICTIMS, NO VILLAINS
    Every situation brings exactly what you need to wake up

    Relationships are like jigsaw puzzles. All the pieces fit together to create the whole. You are not responsible for anyone else, nor are they for you. There's no guilt, no blame, no shame. Allow things to be as they are. Accept each moment as if you'd chosen it.

    If someone hurts you, look for what you can learn from it. Holding a grudge drains your energy. Forgiveness doesn't mean it was okay with you; it means releasing the person's power to upset you. You may never forget, but letting go of resentment is more productive. This goes double for forgiving yourself.

  8. MEDITATE AND TREAT YOURSELF WELL
    Nurture yourself

    Make time to have fun and enjoy life. Take walks in nature. Spend time alone. Exercise, rest and eat when you need to, and drink lots of water. Something as simple as a warm bath or good stretch can do wonders in improving your perspective. Laugh. Let yourself dream your fondest dreams.

    Celebrate your successes, big and small. Meditation calms your conscious thinking mind, and helps you access your inner wisdom. Counting your breaths is the basic form, or you can silently repeat a soothing word or phrase like "peace" or "well-being." When your mind wanders, and it will, just bring your focus back and start over. Even ten minutes a day can make a difference.

  9. GET OUTSIDE HELP
    See beyond your blind spots

    Get counseling, either by yourself or with family members. It helps to talk about your feelings, no matter how embarrassing, strange or awful they seem to you. Find someone you trust and feel compatible with, and be willing to pour your heart out. An objective outsider can clear up confusion and help you set your creative energy free. Examine both sides of any issue. Don't follow advice blindly, but do explore ideas that make sense to you to see what happens. Join a group of people with similar interests or circumstances to yours. Try art, sports, music, or dance for fun and/or therapy. Read self-help books. Most have at least some helpful nuggets, and can reassure you that you're not alone. Don't expect The Answer, but serve yourself a variety of ideas to take or leave as you like.

  10. MOVE ON
    Graduate to living fully

    Respect your own boundaries. Your first commitment should be to yourself and to learning as much as possible from what happens to you. Only when you're at peace with yourself can you make a real contribution to anyone. Live your own truth, be honorable, and intend the best for everyone, including yourself. Trying to change someone is futile, no matter how much you care, or how badly you think they need it. You have no control over what anyone else feels or thinks. Do what you can, and do your best, but not at your own expense.

    Working things through can be healing when there's mutual respect, but if you feel hopeless, scapegoated, threatened or frantic, retreat may be the only appropriate choice, at least for the moment. It could be as basic as leaving the room briefly, or as extreme as ending the relationship or moving away. But be open to the possibility that the "problem" person may surprise you. Your changes alter the context of the relationship, so eventually they may come to treat you differently. If so, you may want to renew the relationship, but don't rush into it until you're confident that things have changed. To leave your mark on future generations, pass along what you learn.

I wish you healing, faith and the courage to make your dreams come true.

Suzanne Gold (MA, Psychology), "The Family Fixer," (Pacific Sun) is a life counselor, spiritual coach, teacher, and author of Daddy's Girls, Gold Medal winner in ForeWord Magazine's Book of the Year Awards. A survivor of a dysfunctional family, Suzanne teaches workshops, college seminars, and in private practice. For more information, go to http://www.SuzanneGold.com or email Suzanne@SuzanneGold.com.

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