What Family Patterns Have You Fallen Back Into?

Proverbs 29:25 – The fear of man lays a snare, but whoever trusts in the Lord is safe.

Florence loved her family, but she and her husband both experienced anxiety as the holidays approached because going back to her parents’ home with all her siblings was like a movie where you go back in time. Her brother, who had always picked on her, would resume his role, thinking he was funny but instead making her feel awkward. Her sister, who had never differentiated and matured, always had some emotional crisis that sucked all the energy of the family in her direction, and the holidays were guaranteed to be her opportunity to tell her tales and shed her tears to get attention. Her younger brother had a falling out with her father, and he moved across the country to cut them off. While the family missed him, no one said anything about his absence because it was awkward. It seemed like year after year, every time her family got together, it was like everyone was reading the same script they had been their entire life.

When a child becomes an adult, leaves their father and mother, and differentiates by launching to live their own life, it can be difficult to re-engage with their birth family because there is an expectation that they would revert back to the role they played in the family growing up. This pressure to revert back to a less mature season of life causes anxiety of many people when they are planning on spending the holidays with extended family or being together at events like weddings, funerals, family dinners, or the birth of new generations. 

Making matters even more complex is a family crisis or emergency where the extended family is forced together suddenly and unexpectedly, along with emotions running high. If the father has a heart attack, mom is diagnosed with cancer, grandpa is diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, or grandma suddenly develops dementia, the extended family can be emotionally pulled together like gravity and return to an unhealthy family system by reverting back to old and unhealthy roles and relationships complete with relational triangles. 

There are some clues that someone is reverting roles. 

One, when you are with your extended family, do you find most everyone (including yourself) falling back into unhealthy old relational ruts? 

Two, when the extended family is together, it is healthy if there is a combination of sharing positive old memories and catching up on what is going on in life presently. 

Three, what nicknames are used for extended family members are also clues to the degree of health or unhealth in a family system. When an unhealthy family is together, the negative nicknames are used to freeze family members in their past roles, creating an unchangeable identity that others are forced to revert back into. 

If you are in this kind of unhealthy family system you have two options. 

One, you can endure it and be miserable. If you are married, it will be very painful for your spouse to see you mistreated by extended family and reverting back to someone who is different than the person they are married to. If you have children, you will be allowing extended family members to influence your children and future generations of your family negatively. 

Two, you can set boundaries, refusing to tolerate mistreatment and unhealth. Many people are reticent to take this risk because they fear the wrath of the extended family member who will triangle to come against them or even being rejected and outcast by the family. 

The book of Proverbs tells us to fear God (1:7) and not to fear man (29:25). What this means is that you are to hold God and His opinion in the highest honor and not allow anyone to replace God and determine who you are. You know this is happening when someone’s opinion or approval means too much to you. If their reactions change your decisions, then there is a problem. If you spend considerable time, energy, or money to appease them and keep them happy even if it makes you unhappy, then there is a problem. If your priority is to be accepted by someone no matter what, and your greatest fear is being rejected, then there is a problem. If you are willing to do what is wrong, or tolerate their wrongdoing, and hurt your relationship with God to protect your relationship with someone, then there is a problem. 

What role did you play with your family growing up such as caregiver, protector, comedian, servant, mediator, favorite, etc.? Was that a role God was calling you to fulfill, and did it help you be a healthier person as a result?

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