Here at the Hope Blog, I have talked about things like counting our blessings, looking to Christ instead of the ugly realities we sometimes face in this world, and how the truest creeds are those said in the dark.
For those who face years of unrelenting, grinding discouragement in their lives, I know a lot of this sounds like saccharine fantasy. I will agree that there are some situations in life that are so bad, so difficult and so protracted, that doing the above is very difficult. One such area I hear talked about a lot by women is toxic relationships within their family of origin. That can be a never ending source of discouragement.
As adults, we know we should mature past some of the unhealthy dynamics in our families. It doesn’t always happen. I have often thought of the roles we play in our families as being like a dance on a stage. I could easily choreograph the dynamics in the family where I originated. You probably could as well. For some, it might look like a beautiful scene from Swan Lake. For others, it would look more like the sword fight between the Montagues and the Capulets in the ballet, Romeo and Juliet. Maybe some contortionist modern dance would be a better adaptation of what your family dynamics look like.
While minor disagreements and misunderstandings can happen in any healthy family, a truly toxic family is where a poisonous undercurrent of resentment brought about by years of unresolved issues is the major influence. It always, of course, begins in the marriage and in a parent/parents who have a messed up relationship. When the leaders of a family don’t provide a healthy environment, everything else follows. Children develop compensatory ways of dealing with the emotional burden given them by their parents. A lot of it depends on their personalities as to which role they take.
Some children just escape and avoid. Others confront and challenge and play family therapist. Some become co-dependents and spend the rest of their lives trying to get their needs met by equally dysfunctional people. Family members can triangulate, trying to get support for their viewpoint from sympathetic members. Backs are stabbed at times. Petty things become big things. Angry phone calls are made. Feelings are hurt. And the beat goes on.
Someone posed a question to me recently about how to function as a Christian in the middle of a family like this…when the family involved is supposedly Christian. That’s the amazing thing about ugly family dynamics. They exist in families where the individuals would all identify as Christian people, yet the relationships are completely shattered. The Christ they trust for eternal salvation is somehow incapable of fixing what’s wrong in their families.
I don’t claim to have a lot of answers, but when contact with your family of origin, whatever religion they claim, means a constant stream of emotional toxins coming your way, it’s time to stop adding to it. If family members have demonstrated a complete unwillingness to handle things in an adult manner by open communication, forgiveness and love, then you need to stay as far removed from it all as possible. Sometimes conflict can be traced to too much contact in the first place. While it would be nice if Walton-esque families could be the norm for Christians, it isn’t always that way. Space and distance can be a great sanitizer. Granting each other more space may be viewed as “cutting off” people, but Scripture tells us we are called to peace. To participate in ongoing warring is simply sinful.
When elderly parents need care, some of the toxic undercurrents can flare up, big time. In those situations, it takes a lot of prayer and diplomacy to work these situations out. Sometimes, all you can do in a situation is survive the best you can with the Lord’s help. You can only be responsible for your own attitude and conduct, but it is not wrong to remove yourself as chief punching bag if that is what you have become in your family situation.
Probably nothing short of a difficult marriage has the potential to be a source of constant discouragement like negative extended family relationships. I would be interested to hear how readers deal with that sort of thing in their own lives. It seems to effect so many.