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  • Laura Chapman

Toxic relationships and Family dynamics




Over the past few weeks, I have been noticing that many of my clients have an unhealthy relationship with a parent or family member. This is something that I have personally experienced too. Growing up, I lived in a very dysfunctional family. There was domestic violence and serious mental health issues.


Without getting too personal, this is something that affects so many people. My generation (I’m 35) is on the tail end of life without the internet. Toxic blueprints that were passed down intergenerationally were never questioned until now! It’s so easy to live life pretending it hasn’t affected us, it’s so normal to come from a dysfunctional family dynamic that we’re scared to stand up and say, hang on a minute, this isn’t normal and this ends now.


There are signs of your childhood in your behaviours now I would bet. Are you good at reading the room? Did you have to learn how to diffuse negative moods quickly? Maybe you use awkward humour? Perhaps you need to ‘go off the rails’ to get acknowledgement? Maybe you find yourself walking on your tiptoes often and you’re not sure why, or maybe you’re a people pleaser? Maybe you were a ‘problem child’ or a ‘black sheep’? I could go on and on (and on) about this, trust me, this is the tip of the iceberg.


FYI, children learn to read faces and diffuse moods because they have to, to make their environment more bearable. Acting silly or making people laugh helps with this. Those with anxious attachments knew that the only way to get attention from their caregiver was to have a crisis themselves. Adults who walk on their tiptoes may have been used to getting around the house silently so as not to alert anyone. People pleasing people are often co-dependent and base their self-worth on what they can do for others. Problem children (If there is ever such a thing) and black sheep may have acted-out as their way of changing the family dynamic, taking responsibility for the family’s problems. It’s easier for parents to blame a child than themselves and their caregiving.


Now, I’m not saying that all these behaviours are 100% linked to this, there could be many other reasons for them, so don’t think I’m trying to claim authority here! Yet, time and time again, these are the things (and more) that come up. Not only that, but another common problem is also internal dialogue. Some people have the voice in their mind giving them a hard time when life is a struggle anyway and very often, this voice embodies that of a parental relationship.


The map I was given showed me how to react with anger, how to swing between people-pleasing and hiding away, being overly sensitive and damn right cold. Cheers parents! The great thing is though, we are not children forever and once you reach adulthood, you get to choose your own behaviours and learn your own coping strategies (woohoo!). There comes a point when you realise that your parents, they are just you a few years down the line. And more often than not, their childhood was dysfunctional too (cheers grandparents!) and so on and so forth.


So, how do adults learn new coping strategies? Well, this is where it gets tough. When you enter into your first romantic relationships, often they can shape us in new ways. Those who were damaged as children, tend to attract those who are damaged as adults. If you use the same behaviours you used to cope with your parents, then this might be all you know, and the cycle continues. Some of us are luckier, we find a partner or best friend and grow together in healthy ways, calling out unhealthy behaviours. Some of us are even luckier, we go to therapy, or train to be therapists (!) and learn these new resources.


The thing is, we can sit here now and blame our shortcomings on parents or home situation, and ultimately there is validity there, of course there is. Yes, these things did happen to us and yes they shaped us in unhealthy ways. Maybe you used drugs or alcohol to cope with that for a while too. BUT, at some point in life, you have to stand up and say, I am not that child anymore. My parents are human beings too and they made mistakes too. Whether they were abusive or neglectful on purpose, or whether it was a by product of their own mental health issues, there is not one cell in your body now that existed when you were a child. You are not that person anymore, that childhood does not have to define you.


I hate that individualistic societies push responsibility on to us through self-improvement encouragement, that they discount environmental impacts, so it seems quite peculiar that that’s what I am getting at here. Really though, yes childhood may have been bloody awful for you. Indeed, I have had clients who have faced the most tragic things, horrifying things, things that no child should ever have had to experience. Yet, they live today and sit in front of me to tell the tale. Is the fact that they are resilient and strong because of their childhood too? Did their trauma create their strength? Hell no. Their resilience and strength came in spite of their childhoods, not because of it! Because THEY chose to stand up and say enough. So, we do have to take some individual responsibility for the sheer reason, because we can. We can choose whoever we want to be, whenever we want to be it.


When we stop allowing life to happen ‘to’ us and start allowing life to happen ‘for’ us, that’s when things change, and it doesn’t stop there (one day you’ll reach the ‘life happens through me phase!’). When we accept that we may not have had the best start in life (and trust me, you have every right to feel angry sometimes) and show ourselves some self-compassion, maybe we get to be the best we can be, maybe we get to parent ourselves in all new and exciting ways. Once responsibility has been taken for your adult life, you get to live it. Live it without a disappointing internal dialogue, without overthinking previous conversations, without holding guilt and shame and disillusion damn it. That weight on your shoulders, you can put that down. Even just for a while.


So, don’t wait around for it to happen to you, make it happen for you. Take control, seize the day, and all that motivational c*ap. I'm not saying that all problems can be fixed, but if you need help creating new coping strategies or you want to see how different your life could be without your baggage, drop me a message. I’m always here for some free advice if nothing else.


And for the love of Pete, give yourself a pat on the back. For making it this far, in this crazy world. And also for making it to the end of this blog post.


Happy Heatwaves people.

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