Is your family close? Do you have at least one sibling that you communicate with on a regular basis? If you do, that is wonderful because having good relations with your family can cushion you against the stresses of life as well as help you rejoice in the good times. Being with family members who celebrate holidays together, get together consistently and are there for emotional support has been shown to increase emotional and physical wellbeing. However, what if that is not the case? What if your family was distant growing up and now that you are adults, siblings are still distant? How does that happen and what can you do to improve your life of you are in this situation?
Dysfunctional families usually have members who do not know how to self regulate very well when it comes to their feelings. They tend to either get reactive by yelling or perhaps even worse or they withdraw, repress and suffer silently. Children who come from these families may tend to avoid seeing or communicating with their siblings because when interacting with them, it evokes the same painful emotions they may have had when younger. Since there is little skill in communicating and regulating emotions, there is little chance that getting closer to these siblings will result in a good outcome. It is just easier to avoid.
Here are tips to help you deal with this situation effectively and improve your life:
- Assess yourself to see if you are one of those people who try to regulate your emotions by depending too much on others. If that is the case, you probably have trouble self-soothing. On the other hand, you might notice that you are an “auto-regulator,” going into your metaphorical cave and dealing with feelings on your own without letting others in.
- Find a good therapist to help you develop the “emotional muscle” to regulate your own emotions better. A good therapist will help you learn how to self-soothe if that is where you need the help or help you let others be there for you if that is where you need the help.
- As you become more solid in your own emotional growth, you may want to lead your siblings to this new, healthier way of relating to each other. Yes, you will have to be the “Pied Piper,” leading them to these new patterns. Often, siblings welcome this as they too are longing for connection but have not been able to do that because of what they experience growing up in the same dysfunctional family as you.
- You might ask if one or more of your siblings are willing to go into therapy with you. Therapy is a place where you all could experiment with new behaviors and not go automatically to the self-protective fight or flight reactions that have led to the emotional distance among the siblings. In these situations, trying to do this on your own is a little like trying to do surgery on yourself. You may just need that expert to help you navigate healthier ways to interact as well as to grieve together if need be.
- If your sibling or siblings are unwilling to heal with you, you may need to move on and accept their limitations. Give it your best shot but don’t keep pursuing what is not rewarding. Grieving is necessary here but could pave the way for healthier relationships.
- Create what I call a prosthetic family. Close friends, extended family members and people in your community can hopefully be there for you in ways your limited family members were not capable of being. Realize that your true family may not be your biological family.
- If you do see your immediate family and siblings and decide to not totally sever the relationships, set boundaries and see them under situations that work better for you. See them for circumscribed times and keep their limitations in mind. Do not make their problems yours and definitely don’t take it personally.
If you want help with this problem for yourself or for your family, feel free to contact me. I have helped many individuals and families heal and develop more satisfying relationships and communication patterns. I do this in person and virtually.