How to see unhealthy family traits through mindfulness

February 6, 2016

The moral of this blog post is that through mindfulness you can mentally step aside and see your behavior as an independent observer might see it. This is healthy for you in a variety of ways, including helping to make you a better human being.

The details of the story are that my mother has been very sick recently, stretching back several years really, and this has taken a toll on my relationship with my sisters, and their relationships with each other. I wrote recently that for the first time in my life I really needed my oldest sister’s help in early December, and then she made the choice not to be there for me. As a result, after I recovered from my problem, I took her out of my will. She made her choice, and I made mine.

Learning to be mindful not only helps me see my behavior — such as making the conscious decision to take my sister out of my will — but it also helps me to see their behavior more independently. Now I can see what they do and think, “Oh, my, that’s just like what dad used to do,” or, “Oh, wow, what she did right there, that’s what grandma used to do.” I don’t know if these behaviors are passed down through DNA or if they are learned behaviors, but now that I can mentally step aside and see these behaviors I can observe all of us more objectively.

One family trait that I think is in the DNA is that we can all act irrationally at times. I have known that about myself for 15 or 20 years now, but when it happens these days I can usually step aside and see what’s going on, and then I can stop it, and change it. The last few weeks I have seen this in my oldest sister. There is a particular situation that is staring her right in the eyes and I’m sure she sees it, but then she tries to change the subject and say, “Hey everyone, look over there — look anywhere else — so we don’t have to confront this issue.” And she keeps doing this and keeps doing it, despite another sister and I telling her that this big elephant in the room is hers, and she needs to own it.

(When I took my sister out of my will I didn’t do it irrationally. My first response to her not helping me was irrational, but after that I thought, “If I live through this, the first thing I’m going to do is to take her out of my will.”)

Another family trait is that we can talk things to death without actually ever doing anything. Not to harp on this sister, but she has been doing that lately as well. This morning she sent me six texts reiterating problems I already knew about. Nothing had changed overnight, but for some reason we had to rehash these things again. So in addition to her trying to avoid the big elephant in the room, she’s also repeatedly talking about these problems without offering a solution. Her texts pissed me off — that whole irrational thing again — so I made the choice not to respond to her immediately. Finally, because she brought up these problems without offering the most logical solution — the elephant in the room — I wrote back and said, “Yes, you’re right, these sure are problems. Our other sisters could really use that help we’ve been talking about.” I haven’t heard back from her since, but I hope one of these days she’ll acknowledge that elephant in the room. (Preferably soon, before it’s too late.)

In summary, I think it’s healthy to be able to step aside and see how certain traits are passed down from generation to generation. Hopefully most of the traits are healthy, but it’s helpful to know that others are unhealthy, and that through mindfulness and meditation you can see the unhealthy behaviors, and then change them for the better. (For me, I don’t know if that first, irrational response to certain things will ever go away completely, but because I can now see my own behavior more independently, I can choose to respond to things rather than to react to them, and that’s a huge difference in my behavior and my life.)

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