How Does Family Influence Your Life?: Your Mental Health And Wellbeing
The difference between our generation and those of our parents’ and grandparents’ generations are obvious in several ways, but it is the mental and emotional health aspect that typically gets our millennial blood boiling. If you’re really lucky, you were raised in the “traditional” family home where your religion trumped all.
Typically, navigating familial structures that are close-knit or having to interact with family members who are vocal about their disinterest in your worldviews and morals, can often leave you feeling drained and/or exhausted. Most times you shy away from family gatherings, or even simple dinners because you are aware of the various nuances that may arise.
Perhaps you missed the memo on what too much or too little food looks like. Maybe your weight has fluctuated and it’s not what they are used to. Your mind might not be in a place to positively contribute to conversations. It might have been possible that your tone of voice has caused someone to assume you’ve gotten too ‘big for your britches.’ *whispers* Or a current affairs topic comes up for discussion.
They are your family, and being Caribbean-born or having Caribbean ties means that family is typically seen as everything. It’s easy for persons without the close family bonds to tell you to cut them off. If they don’t support you, lose them. But is there a way to deal with the family you were born into not recognizing or taking your mental illness seriously? Does it always have to come to excommunication?
How Does Family Influence Your Life: Recognizing You Are Not At Fault
I could write a book on the possible triggers that family gatherings induce for a person dealing with mental illnesses. I cannot say that I have mastered the art of navigating such situations, but I have spent many of my years locked in a bathroom or bedroom wondering if it was safe to return to “family fun time”. It took me a decade to realize that what was being said or done was not my own fault. In fact, after properly identifying my own issues, it was easier to acknowledge that my family too had their own shortcomings.
First, it was easier to recognize that the older generation had no previous experience dealing with emotional or mental health, as they were not raised in a time like we are in now where health in general and a person’s well-being is taken much more seriously. Most of their issues were solved with much simpler solutions. This has been purely my observation inspired by the things I’ve learned in school and the fact that the grievances of our ancestors are still not publicly addressed. This is why the discussion on mental health publicly is very important.
Second of all, being raised with the belief that a supernatural being will solve all, or would not create such a problem in the first place, tends to cause difficulty in understanding these issues. This is not to say that there is something wrong with believing in a supernatural being. Instead, this is to help us, the afflicted, to recognize that the wiring of their minds towards a problem that cannot be physically seen tends to be influenced by factors we have no control over.
Acknowledging Different Beliefs
We cannot force someone to let go of their own personal beliefs and convictions because it will better suit us and our problems. It may further damage the bonds, as it may lead to more insensitive things being said, but recognizing that you do not have the ability to control this factor about them should help to ease your conflict. Sometimes the damage has been done, and you have already begun the deep cycle of self-blaming for allowing yourself to be hurt or opening up yourself to be in this position to be hurt.
The words of Don Miguel Ruiz from his book, The Four Agreements say it best,
Challenging The Mindset Of Family
We cannot control how our family perceives us and our illness. We can, however, do our best to maintain our power in situations we otherwise feel weakened. Practicing our self-care methods before we have to encounter these people is an option. Challenging our mindset, and how we view these interactions is very important. Some individuals highlight that the negative approach we take to interacting with our families might set this reality into play before we enter the situation. Yes, we know our family’s view on mental health and how they view persons who openly suffer from it (if you haven’t told your family about your mental health struggle, I understand why you are hesitant!).
How Does Family Influence Your Life: Rebuilding Your Mindset About Family
Here are some important tips on how to help with building, or rebuilding, a positive mindset and how we take on daily life. This can be applied to familial interactions as well. Fostering a positive outlook on life will provide overall benefits to us in the long run.
It is also important to keep the people who support and understand our struggle close at hand. When I know I have to be around complex family members for long periods of time, I keep my circle of friends on high alert. I let them know in advance what the situation I’m going into is (for example, a funeral which comes with a lot of personal triggers for me). I also alert them to which family members might cause me to regress to a negative mental space.
While my friends are not psychologists, they do their best to keep me distracted and calm in otherwise eventful situations. If I do get to a place of anger or pain, they listen and allow me to move through the issue without ever having to alert my surrounding family members.
People who understand where you are coming from and what you are going through allow you to tap into a source of the external validation you may need from your family that you may not receive. With mental illness, for example, depression, it is easy to feel like a weaker human for being manipulated and controlled by sadness. Having a strong support group in your friends, therapy group, online circle, and/or therapist is essential to moving through a life where you would otherwise be beaten down by negative opinions on the matter.
Taking Time Away From Your Family
It is very important, where possible, to take time away from your family. Spending time away from them will enable you to regroup and recenter. Especially in times when your energy or mindset might be compromised. Being in an uncomfortable situation, or conversation can be draining very quickly. Before you can realize it, you will be left picking up the pieces of your boundaries. It is hard to identify the disintegration of your boundaries when you are already mentally compromised. Spending time to meditate and center your mind on positive things before a function or event might make a difference in how you will spend your time with the family.
When I lived at home with my family, I would frequently take trips to other friends who I found to be supportive. Yes, I received more backlash for it at times but ultimately it helped me feel less hopeless when I was still navigating the fact that their mindset was uncontrollable and things said to me were not my own fault. If you do not have that friendship support group as yet and are not as mobile, find other methods of removing your mind from the environment.
Watching nature videos, documentaries, and science-fiction shows helped me remove myself from my reality. Things that allowed me to forget my own problems at the moment were soothing balms. Even the act of riding on public transportation became semi-soothing – having to ask for a stop of any kind induced my anxiety, but that is a work in progress lol.
The Importance Of Boundaries With Family
My Witted Roots family, your blood relatives may have raised you and put you on your path to living in this world, but they are humans just like we are. They have their shortcomings and are not perfect. The sooner we recognize that our family members might be in similar struggles as we are, yet are unable to even recognize it at times, the better our interactions with them will become. It becomes easier to maintain our boundaries.
I think of my family boundaries as a cell membrane (I am a scientist by degree, so bear with me a little). The boundaries act as a semipermeable membrane; I allow their love and care to filter through and leave the bulky negative things beyond the boundary.
I remind myself that, yes they love me unconditionally and provide for me the best way that they are capable of. But I must allow my self-care routines, positive mindset, and thought patterns to filter out the negative things that might slip through when the barrier fails. There will be family members that you will have to excommunicate for the sake of maintaining your sanity, and it will be difficult to do so. Take comfort in the fact that you will likely replace those individuals with better suited non-blood family, the friends who support and love you unconditionally.
The people who do not subject you to uncomfortable thoughts and defensive strategies. It is my daily prayer that one day, I will be able to have an open and honest discussion about my triggers and mental health issues with my family and how we can move our interactions into nothing but positive ones. It is also my sincerest hope that you will be able to do the same, or simply find peace knowing you are not alone in your struggle. While the ties that bind us run blood deep, self-love must run deeper.
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