Advertising
Advertising

How to Survive a Midlife Crisis in Men (the Definitive Guide)

How to Survive a Midlife Crisis in Men (the Definitive Guide)

If you believe that you’re having a midlife crisis – even if you aren’t middle-aged – I can assure you that you’re not alone. I can also assure you that it’s never too late to start creating the kind of life that you want.

So many of us slog through each day, only to look around and realize that we’ve been letting life pass us by.

Don’t let life pass you by. Use this as a guide and with any luck, you’ll begin to see the midlife crisis in men for what it really is: an opportunity.

My Journey into Self-Realization

A few years ago, I took a look around and decided to make a change, a big change. And it made me uncomfortable, in that uh-oh-what-was-I-thinking kind of way.

But I knew that if I didn’t make a change, I was going to be miserable for the rest of my life.

After college I moved to Chicago to pursue comedy, using a carefully and brilliantly devised strategy. By day, I’d find my inspiration in hip and trendy coffee bistros and on El trains, gazing out at the quickly passing cityscape. By night, I’d play at open mics, only to catch the ear of George Wendt, sign a development deal and be thrust headlong into comedic superstardom.

As it turned out, telling jokes to drunkards on a Monday night didn’t quite foot the bill for my 400 square-foot palace without air-conditioning. And as far as I could tell, George Wendt didn’t leave the house much.

So much to my chagrin, I took a job in advertising. After two years in Chicago, during which I was gripped by depression and angst, I moved back to Omaha – my hometown – to “figure things out.” But instead of figuring things out, I took yet another job in advertising, and then another. And for nearly a decade, I bounced around from role to role, only to sit lamentably in a cubicle and do work that could have been done by a half-trained Capuchin monkey.

Before I knew it, I turned 30. I began to examine my life and panic swept in.

What have I been doing for the last 10 years? There has to be more to life than this. I’ve gotta get out of here. I need to make a change. Like, now.

Midlife or otherwise, I do believe I was having a crisis.

The first thing I did was locate my balls which took longer than I care to divulge. Then, I decided to make a change.

I packed up my stuff and moved to New Orleans – a city that brings me endless joy and excitement. I immersed myself in self-help and philosophy, sought out teachers and mentors, became a certified transformational coach and started my own business. And now, I help others navigate their own crises.

What Exactly Is a Midlife Crisis?

A midlife crisis is generally defined as a transition of identity and self-confidence that occurs in middle-aged individuals (typically 45 to 64 years old). This psychological “crisis” is fueled by events that bring to light a person’s age, inevitable mortality and perhaps a lack of notable accomplishments in the adult life.

Not surprisingly, this can lead to feelings of depression, anxiety and the desire to make significant life changes.

Incidentally, the term “midlife crisis” was coined by Canadian psychoanalyst and social scientist, Elliott Jaques, in 1965. (Funny enough, Jaques also coined the term “corporate culture.”) But recent studies have shown that most middle-aged people don’t actually experience a midlife crisis. In fact, some have questioned if the midlife crisis even exists.

For many of us, both men and women, the midlife crisis is all too real.

Signs of a Midlife Crisis

Released in 1999, American Beauty, is perhaps the greatest film ever made about the midlife crisis. As you may remember, the film won the Academy Award for Best Picture, Best Director (Sam Mendes), and Best Actor (Kevin Spacey). And, you can thank screenwriter Alan Ball for the effectively flawless script.

In the film, Lester Burnham, played by Kevin Spacey (I’m sorry for bringing him up), loathes his job as an advertising executive, can barely stand his materialistic wife, and has no idea how to communicate with his angry, misanthropic, teenage daughter. From the outside, the Burnhams seem to have the perfect, white-picket-fence existence. But behind closed doors, Lester has become disenchanted with…well…damn near everything.

The film’s critically praised opening montage gives us a look into Lester Burnham’s dull and monotonous daily life, as Lester unenthusiastically narrates each scene.

Advertising

“I have lost something,” he says. “I’m not exactly sure what it is but I know I didn’t always feel this … sedated.”

Most modern movies and television shows have left us believing that the first sign of a midlife crisis is a newly purchased sports car in the driveway. But as American Beauty shows us, the signs of a midlife crisis are usually much less obvious to ordinary passersby.

Common signs of a midlife crisis can include:

  • Mood swings: Those experiencing a midlife crisis can seem highly temperamental, becoming angry or irritable without justification.
  • Depression and anxiety: A midlife crisis can undoubtedly cause one to feel sad, blue, restless, down in the dumps or just plain miserable.
  • Sleeplessness or oversleeping: Depression, anxiety and a constantly spinning mind can greatly affect one’s sleeping habits.
  • An obsession with appearances: Those going through a midlife crisis often feel the need to remain attractive to others.
  • Increased consumption of drugs or alcohol: Middle-aged adults may turn to drugs or alcohol to mask their feelings.
  • Feeling stuck in a rut: Those going through a midlife crisis often feel life they’re stuck – in a bad job, a bad marriage, a bad situation – with no way out.
  • Thoughts of death or dying: A midlife crisis can cause people to think obsessively about their own mortality.

Other signs of a midlife crisis include: impulsive decision-making, having an affair, replacing old friends with younger friends, assigning blame to others and extreme boredom.

Take a look at this chart to see how many of these signs are you experiencing:[1]

    Why a Midlife Crisis Happens

    It bears repeating that recent studies seem to reject the idea that most adults go through a midlife crisis. Researchers believe that personality type and a history of psychological issues predispose some people to the traditional midlife crisis.

    One study points out that there is a stark difference between a midlife crisis and midlife stressors, and many midlife stressors are mislabeled as a crisis. Of course, common day-to-day stressors can pile up, causing middle-aged adults to believe they are having a crisis.

    Additionally, many middle-aged adults experience life events that can lead to prolonged depression or psychological distress. However, these events – like the death of a loved one or a professional setback – can just as easily happen earlier in life.

    Take me, for example. Just before my 30th birthday, my father – who was the picture of health – died suddenly and unexpectedly while exercising at the gym. Not to mention that I detested my low-paying 9 to 5 job, published a book that didn’t sell, started a company that failed, ruined a number of friendships and had far less sex than I’d like to admit.

    Was I having a crisis? Possibly. Was I experiencing depression due to an overload of stressors? Most definitely.

    Still, do any amount of research on the midlife crisis and you’ll find that psychologists often attribute the phenomenon to aging itself, the aging or death of one’s parents, the maturation of one’s children, spousal relationships (or lack thereof) and career (or lack thereof).

    How to Deal with a Midlife Crisis

    If you believe you’re having a midlife crisis, if you feel stuck in a rut, if you’re experiencing depression and anxiety, I’d like to assure you once again that you’re not alone.

    I once considered myself a lost cause, predestined to live out my days feeling miserable and unfulfilled. Then, I decided to change. I became dedicated to learning how to live with at least some measure of joy. And after a great deal of experimentation, I came up with a regimen that worked for me – and still works – as long as I stick to it.

    I can’t guarantee that it’ll work for you. But I do know that it won’t hurt. And should you choose to give it a try, you’ll need to do the following:

    1. Decide

    Someone once said that “the first step toward getting somewhere is to decide that you’re not going to stay where you are.” And, I couldn’t agree more. This is truly where the work begins.

    I began to experience a shift only after I made the decision – no, the unbreakable promise to myself – that I was going to change my life. And no matter how much you’re suffering, you can make yourself the same promise.

    2. Stop the search for happiness

    There’s a funny thing with us humans. We spend our lives trying desperately to find happiness and yet, we don’t even know what it is.

    We can’t explain, describe, or define it; we just know that we want it because it’ll make everything peachy. Time and time again, though, studies have shown that our never-ending quest for happiness is quite often the very thing that screws us up.

    Trying to find happiness is a futile effort, likely to exacerbate the “crisis” you’re having. Stop the search for happiness and start taking action steps toward creating the life that you want. When you do, you won’t need to find happiness. Eventually, happiness will find you.

    Advertising

    3. Meditate

    What I used to dismiss as new age nonsense has positively changed my life in more ways than I thought possible. Meditation has been proven to reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression, improve focus and concentration, increase self-awareness and promote better physical health.

    And, for me, it’s the only activity that effectively tames my “monkey mind,” or what neuroscientists have recently named the default mode network (DMN).

    Your DMN is most active when you aren’t focused on anything in particular, and your mind is wandering from thought to thought. At best, these thoughts can be inspired and entertaining. But when you’re in the throes of a personal crisis, these thoughts can be morbid and destructive.

    Meditation has a quieting effect and significantly decreases activity in the DMN. And when the mind does start to wander, those who regularly meditate are much better at snapping out of it.

    Try this 5-minute Guide to Meditation: Anywhere, Anytime and experience its benefits.

    4. Develop an abundance mindset

    Of all the strategies I use to mitigate my depression and anxiety, abundance thinking was the most difficult for me to adopt. It’s also been the most beneficial. It required me to change some of my core beliefs.

    For years, I operated from a scarcity mindset, I was angry that all the world’s goodies seemed to go to everyone else. I wondered why those around me were getting recognized, getting rich, getting a nice partner and I wasn’t. Maybe, I thought, there’s just not enough to go around. Of course, this kind of thinking isn’t just debilitating; it’s downright inaccurate.

    The world, in fact, is a place of abundance, with limitless opportunities. Remind yourself of this every day, regardless of your age. Open yourself up to all that the world has to offer. As Dr. Wayne Dyer wrote in his book, Real Magic,

    “Try to imagine a state of unlimited possibilities as being possible for you.”

    5. Practice gratitude

    Before you go to bed at night, think of five things for which you are grateful. Better yet, write them down. These can be common, everyday occurrences like seeing a beautiful sunset or learning something new or hearing your favorite song on the radio.

    As Dr. Robert Emmons, a professor at UC Davis and the world’s leading scientific expert on gratitude once wrote,

    “Gratitude is, first and foremost, a way of seeing that alters our gaze.”

    Need a little inspiration on how to practice gratitude? Here’re 40 Simple Ways To Practice Gratitude

    6. Pursue your passions

    I can’t help but feel a tinge of regret when I think of the years during which I never pursued my passions. Certainly, if you’re having a midlife crisis, it might seem hard to feel passionate about anything. But you can reinvigorate your spirit with a remarkably simple activity.

    Think about what you love doing or what you loved doing when you were a kid. Think about how you might spend your time if you had the financial abundance to do anything. Think about those you admire, those whose careers you wish you had. Think about what makes the hours fly by like seconds.

    Whatever your passions are, pursue them wholeheartedly. As Hunter S. Thompson once said,

    “Anything that gets your blood racing is probably worth doing.”

    If you’re not sure what your passion is, that’s okay. Here’s a guide for you:

    How to Get Motivated and Be Happy Every Day When You Wake Up

    Research also shows that simply trying new things can increase dopamine levels in the brain, contributing to sustained levels of contentment. So get out of the house and try new things. Eventually, you’ll find one that lights you up inside.

    Advertising

    7. Exercise

    One of my least favorite places to go is the gym. And one of my least favorite things to do is well… going to the gym. Of course, exercise is by far the most widely recommended way to stave off negative feelings and gain perspective. But you don’t need to go to the gym to get exercise.

    You can do yoga, play badminton or jump on a trampoline. You can go swimming or dancing or hiking or biking. You can hula hoop with your kids or practice Kung Fu. You can clean your garage or pull weeds in your garden. Or you can simply take a brisk walk around the neighborhood. Just do something physical and you only need to do it for 20 minutes.

    Oh, and make sure you eat healthy too. Eating fried, processed and sugary garbage does nobody good.

    8. Set goals

    Just hearing the word “goals” used to depress me. I couldn’t help but think of corporate plodders, wielding dry-erase pens and scribbling inconsequential to-dos on an office whiteboard. But the fact is, setting goals has become vital to my well-being. And it’s done wonders for my depression.

    Make a list of everything you’d like to accomplish in the next year, in the next five years and in the next ten years. Talk to a coach or someone you love about your goals, and work out a plan to achieve them.

    Learn to use SMART goals to achieve what you want: How to Use SMART Goal to Become Highly Successful in Life

    9. Stay off social media

    I can’t think of anything worse for a fragile human psyche than social media. It’s no secret that using social media can lead to depression, anxiety, envy, feelings of hopelessness and worthlessness, and all kinds of other problems.

    It’s also a colossal waste of time. Imagine what you could accomplish in your own life during the hours you spend scrolling through the highlight reels from the lives of others.

    10. Laugh as much as humanly possible

    Whoever coined the phrase, laughter is the best medicine, was really onto something. Studies show that laughter releases endorphins, activates neurotransmitter serotonin, relieves physical tension and stress, boosts the immune system and protects the heart.

    If you’re having a midlife crisis, you might be wondering if you’ll ever experience laughter again. That’s why you need to seek it out.

    Instead of watching the morning news, which is nothing if not depressing, I watch the previous night’s episode of The Tonight Show or The Late Show. For every hour that I’m working, I take five minutes to watch reliably funny clips on YouTube.

    Before I go to bed, I watch ten minutes of stand-up comedy. I read funny books, see funny movies and spend as much time as I can with ridiculously funny people – including my next-door neighbor, Etta, who happens to be four years old.

    Make a conscious effort to integrate laughter into your daily routine. You’ll be tickled you did.

    11. Think of your life as a party

    The fact that you’re alive isn’t just cause for celebration, it’s a miracle – so improbable that if you try to comprehend it, your mind will almost certainly turn to mush.

    Dr. Ali Binazir, a wicked smart Harvard grad and the author of The Tao of Dating actually crunched the numbers, demonstrating that the probability of your dad meeting your mom was one in 20,000, the probability of your dad dating your mom was one in 2,000, and the probability of the right sperm meeting the right egg was one in 400 quadrillion.

    And that’s just the beginning.

    Your grandparents, great grandparents and everyone before them – going back millions of years to the first Homo sapiens – had to meet and have children. In the end, explains Binazir, the probability of you being born was one in 10, followed by 2,685,000 zeroes.

    Tragically, so many of us never truly appreciate what it means to be alive. We succumb to our fears, give up on our dreams and tolerate the intolerable. We get into bad jobs, bad relationships and bad situations, allowing others to treat us poorly. We do this for years, decades or a lifetime. Then, of course, we die.

    Think of your life as a party and remember: life is meant to be enjoyed, not endured.

    Besides, it’s never too late to live the life you desire! Here’s the proof:

    Advertising

    How to Start Over and Reboot Your Life When It Seems Too Late

    Can a Midlife Crisis Be Prevented?

    I don’t think I need to explain that it’s impossible to prevent something that’s already happening. But if you see another life crisis in your near future, you can nip it in the bud by doing the things listed above. And, you can start doing them today.

    Additionally, you can stop making excuses that stand in the way of your progress.

    Not sure if you’re making excuses? They aren’t hard to recognize. Most of yours probably start with the words “I don’t.” I don’t have the time. I don’t have the money. I don’t know how. I don’t think it’ll work. I don’t think I’m ready. These are excuses. All of them.

    As humans, we consistently use excuses to talk ourselves out of changing our lives for the better. And we do so out of fear.

    Fear is what traps you inside your comfort zone and whenever you do something outside your comfort zone, you’re hurling yourself into the unknown. And once you’re there, you might come face to face with failure, rejection, stress and embarrassment. You might have to take on new responsibilities. You might slip and fall and break something of value and look like a total failure.

    Or you might do something remarkable. There’s really no way of knowing. That’s why it’s called the unknown. And yes, the unknown can be a scary place.

    But why are we so scared of the unknown? If we are to believe all of those horribly platitudinous quotes about comfort zones (Great things never came from comfort zones!), shouldn’t we be more inclined to explore new ground? For most of us, the answer is one big, pathetic NO.

    Fear of the unknown is an unavoidable part of the human condition. As human beings, we have an inherent, psychological need for certainty – for comfort – because it makes us feel like we’re in control. And yet, we also have the need for uncertainty – for variety – because it reminds us that we’re alive. But as Tony Robbins often points out,

    “Most people value certainty a lot more, and that’s why their lives are so boring.”

    To stop making excuses, acknowledge that you’re making them in the first place. Once you do, you’ll feel a lot better. You’ll only live your best life once you step out.

    But there’s still a hurdle to overcome. You still have to do something. You still have to take action. And taking action, as we know, can be scary. So think about the consequences of inaction.

    What’ll happen if you do nothing? It should come as no surprise that if you do nothing…nothing will happen. And you’ll stay right where you are: stuck in a rut while you yearn for something more.

    Midlife Crisis — Crisis or Opportunity?

    No matter what age you are, every day provides a new opportunity to do something new:

    Sam Walton founded Wal-Mart when he was 44.

    Ray Kroc bought the first McDonald’s just after his 50th birthday.

    Rodney Dangerfield was 46 when he got his big break on the Ed Sullivan Show.

    Harland Sanders was dead broke at 65. Then, he sold the first Kentucky Fried Chicken franchise.

    And Charles Darwin published On the Age of Species at age 50.

    We can’t stop the inevitable. I hate to break it to you but we’re all going to die. The question is: what are you going to do while you’re alive?

    Life is precious. If you believe you’re having a midlife crisis, take a minute to examine what’s really going on. I would argue that it’s not really a crisis at all. In fact, there’s a good chance it’s the perfect time to create the life you’ve always wanted. No excuses.

    Featured photo credit: Pexels via pexels.com

    Reference

    More by this author

    Tony Endelman

    Certified life coach, certified relationship coach, heartbreak recovery expert and internet entrepreneur

    How to Survive a Midlife Crisis in Men (the Definitive Guide)

    Trending in Mental Strength

    1 7 Steps to Start Living Your Dream Life Right Now 2 The Lifehack Show Episode 11: Mindfulness and the Authentic Self 3 5 Ways to Make the Best Use of Extrinsic Motivation 4 How to Overcome Your Resistance to Change for a Better Self 5 How to Improve Self-Control and Be the Master of Your Life

    Read Next

    Advertising
    Advertising
    Advertising

    Last Updated on November 11, 2019

    Can a Dysfunctional Family Become Functional?

    Can a Dysfunctional Family Become Functional?

    A dysfunctional family is more than disagreement or constant arguments. Anything from plain neglect, to abuse and even verbal and physical violence is the everyday experience of those who are part of a dysfunctional family.

    You know how this looks:

    • Parents constantly comparing children.
    • Siblings in conflict because of tolerated bullying.
    • Domestic violence.
    • Adultery…
    • And many others.

    For all the members, this will mean emotional pain and even trauma; which, in case it doesn’t get resolved, will have a detrimental effect on the individual’s personality and development.

    Needless to say, the younger members are the most vulnerable, but that doesn’t mean the parents are out of danger, as most commonly the parents play the roles of abuser-codependent, and in some cases, both parts inflicting pain on one another.

    Most like to think these problems stem from deep-seated issues, and that therefore it’s pretty much impossible to deal with them.

    This is only true for families not willing to do what it takes, for if only a single member is determined and knows how to do it, the whole family can do a lot of progress.

    In this article, I’ll break down for you the basic steps of fixing a dysfunctional family. Although it may seem hopeless, it is possible to turn things around.

    If you have ever felt in this position, or if you know somebody who is, this article is for you.

    How to fix a dysfunctional family

    In a few words the solution for a dysfunctional family lies in dropping the ego, focusing on the solution, switching blame for responsibility and doing the work as a unity, for the good of the whole family.

    And this will accomplish things you once only saw as a dream.

    Dropping the ego? Switching blame for responsibility? Doing the work? What does all this mean?

    It’s simple. In a nutshell, it’s that which will allow you to turn a dysfunctional family into a functional one.

    Let’s take a look at how exactly this can be done. And near the end we will also talk about what you can do in a dysfunctional family with cynical traits.

    Dysfunctional families where not only problems are well-known, but also nobody seems to want a fix or openly decide to perpetuate the harmful behaviors. Such as the case of abuse and physical violence.

    There is also a solution for these, it’s just not what you are expecting…

    Dysfunctional… Or just average?

    Most families are dysfunctional, though at varying degrees of dysfunctionality.

    The milder cases, are just marked by “typical” comically-shrouded bullying or lack of interest in other members’ development or wellbeing.

    You can know a family is dysfunctional if their interactions are anything different than cooperation, solidarity, care and support. But let’s get more specific…

    A dysfunctional family is one in which members directly or indirectly suffer emotional and/or physical harm inflicted by other members of their family. Most commonly, perpetrated by the parents.

    Even harmful actions as “passive” as neglect, which is inflicted by inaction rather than action, signifies a dysfunction within the family.

    Dysfunctional families have conflicts such as:

    • Unrealistic expectations
    • Lack of interest and time spent together
    • Sexism
    • Utilitarianism
    • Lack of empathy
    • Unequal or unfair treatment
    • Disrespect towards boundaries
    • Control Issues
    • Jealousy
    • Verbal and physical abuse
    • Violence and even sexual misconduct or abuse

    You may think a dysfunctional family has very little or nothing to do with personal productivity, but you would be wrong in thinking this way…

    If a person is not emotionally well, she will not be able to perform as desired, as the emotional harm that has been inflicted will hinder everyday performance in the way of inability to concentrate, lack of mental clarity and low levels of inspiration, motivation and discipline.

    Having a functional family does exactly the opposite: It creates productive members with no emotional baggage.

    How to turn it around

    When you’re part of a dysfunctional family you know it. You can quickly identify in other members the behaviors and conflicts that create the dysfunction.

    But just in case you’re having trouble telling functional from dysfunctional I will tell you the following:

    One of the easiest ways you can recognize if you are in a dysfunctional family is to survey your won feelings.

    We often overlook this, but have you stopped to ask yourself how you feel?

    Advertising

    As cheesy as it may sound it really sheds a lot of light on the subject.

    What behaviors, actions and attitudes in your family you wish were better?

    Do you think certain behaviors and actions from your family marked you in the past?

    Sadly, we cannot go back to the past to correct it. But we can do a lot in the present…

    Correction is possible

    In order to fix a dysfunctional family, you must start by putting an end to the behaviors and actions that are affecting you.

    Verbalize it.

    All members of the dysfunctional family have one issue in common: They don’t put a stop to the harm.

    Whenever you feel your boundaries being overstepped there is just one single word you have to remember: STOP.

    This is the door to a better, more functional family, because after this, comes the fix.

    But first you have to identify and make others know where exactly lies the problem.

    So go ahead and fearlessly start with “Stop”, followed by your expression of dissatisfaction.

    Putting it to work in real life

    In real life it would be something like this:

    “OK, stop! Every time you belittle me I feel you don’t care. I need attention and respect, and it is your responsibility as my family to provide them to me”

    Or:

    “Stop. When you compare me with my cousin it hurts, I feel like I don’t matter and that’s not ok. I ask you to stop doing it.

    Or:

    “Please stop. When you start yelling all respect is lost and it turns into a battle of who can do it louder. Don’t raise your voice and let’s work this out the way humans do”.

    As you can see, here you start by putting a stop to the toxic behavior when it arises. And afterwards you verbalize why it’s wrong and what needs of you need to be fulfilled.

    This is what you have to remember:

    1-Stop.

    2-Why it’s wrong?

    3-What you need.

    And this will also work well in case you need to do it for another family member.

    It’s a family thing

    A dysfunctional family cannot be fixed by one member alone.

    Yes, a single member can initiate progress and be the leader of the change. But in order to completely become functional all members must contribute to the solution.

    In other words, you will need cooperation…

    So don’t be afraid of asking for it!

    Approach your family member and ask to be listened.

    Advertising

    We sometimes feel our needs are “not that important” or we simply believe they won’t listen. But thinking like this would be like being defeated at an unfought battle.

    You will be amazed by how much people listen when you voice your needs, especially if it implies showing yourself open, vulnerable and in need.

    It’s not a free-for-all battle

    In order to get your family to cooperate, first you must fix your individual relationships with every member of the family. Remember: Relationships are always between two people, and two people only.

    No matter how complex, the quality of a multi-member relationship (like a family) will always depend on the quality of the individual relationships.

    Once you have straightened the relationship with every member of the dysfunctional family you will be able to better communicate with other members and help in the betterment of their individual relationship.

    And this is where we will talk about the fix itself. The one I mentioned in the introduction…

    The method

    1. Drop the ego

    Wherever there is conflict there is ego.

    You cannot fix a relationship where there is ego, because the ego will want to win. Always. Yours and the other person.

    Ego craves control and satisfaction, and in many cases, to establish dominance.

    What does this have to do with a dysfunctional family? Everything. Ego will interfere with every plan you have to fix it.

    It will make people suborn and defensive. And it will also make them drop responsibility. This is why, the first step is to drop the ego.

    After you make sure you are not going to allow your ego to interfere you must work to make the other person do the same. How? By speaking from the heart…

    Tell the other person how important all this is to you.

    Tell the other person that it’s not a matter of arguing, but just working things out together.

    Point out how it is not possible for you to do it alone.

    And ask for sincere attention without any desire of opposition, because what you are doing is by no means in the hopes of harming the other person, but just to better the relationship and stop the damage being dealt to you.

    You will have to point out the mistakes you need corrected, that’s for sure. And that leads me to the next point…

    2. Not blame, but responsibility

    When talking about others’ mistakes we often use an accusatory tone. And that’s natural, it’s what things should be like if ego was not present.

    But since we are all creatures of ego, this immediately brings the shields up. And then unsheathes the swords…

    When we blame others they automatically enter a defensive state, and this only leads to a failed negotiation.

    What you need to do is to shift from blame to responsibility. And even that will have to be done carefully!

    Instead of telling them off or demanding change or complaining, calmly point what the problem with their behavior is.

    As much as this feels contradictory, also make them feel understood. You know how difficult it is to accept a mistake, so just make them feel it’s no big fuzz… which does not mean it’s ok, but it takes tension off.

    You will do something like this:

    “Hello dad. Can I talk with you for a minute? I really need to tell you something.

    I have been feeling pretty sad lately and I know this is something you do care about.

    You see, whenever I talk about my accomplishments you mention something else that makes my achievement pale in comparison.

    I know you don’t do this intentionally and I know you might have not realized this until now, but I want to let you know this really brings me down.

    Advertising

    It would mean a lot to me if you could stop doing it, and it would help better our relationship, because this has already forced me to distance myself from you. And I don’t want that, I want a good, healthy relationship with you”

    What happened here?

    We started off with making it something important, something that needs both time and attention. Then we openly show ourselves vulnerable, just as we are.

    We also mention why he should listen, and shove our feelings there again, because they are important.

    We describe the issue with no attachment and with no hostile intention. It’s just a description.

    And then we take the blame off. Just before we assign responsibility without actually saying it.

    You are not blaming him directly, but you are pointing out the inevitable fact that his actions are causing a dysfunctionality. He is now responsible for changing.

    This is what “switching blame for responsibility” means. What comes next? Doing the work!

    3. Doing the work

    What would any of this mean if, in the end, nothing changes? Exactly, nothing!

    This is why you must follow up with every change that needs to be done.

    Do so in a manner that is not hostile. Bring it up in a casual manner, and emphasizing how you both reached an agreement and how that is important to the family.

    If the person doesn’t follow up don’t hesitate to bring it up again, and tell them you feel disappointed that your honest try at it was not listened.

    It may even be a subject in itself, and therefore the need for another conversation.

    “When you go back to old habits it shows that you didn’t really care about what I said. But back in real life you just reinforce how much contempt you show towards me and my feelings.

    I talk with you because I care. Because although it would be easier for me to just distance myself from you I rather do my part in nurturing this relationship.

    But there is just so much I can do, if you refuse to do your part I can do nothing else.”

    You need very clear and positive communication in order to make this work.

    Love is all you need

    You must remember that in order for a dysfunctional family to become functional, all the work needs to stem from love.

    That is the single one requirement for all this to work: Love.

    And what happens if it simply is not there?

    What happens if, nobody is willing to do what it takes?

    What happens if a member of the family refuses to change and is happy with the harm he or she is dealing?

    There is only one thing you can do:

    To break away.

    Let’s be honest, people, especially adults, are very difficult to change.

    There is a Jewish proverb that I love, which sums it up like this:

    “We spend the rest of our lives trying to unlearn what we learned before we were 7”

    If you find it very hard to change the very traits that make your family dysfunctional or if it’s simply impossible, you still have a card up your sleeve…

    Advertising

    Although nobody likes to beak away from family members, we must remember we have a responsibility with ourselves as individuals, before any relationship with anyone.

    You have the responsibility of making yourself happy and free. Because you matter as an individual, regardless of any relationships you have, be it family, friendship or romantic.

    Putting distance

    So in case you are dealing with a family member who is simply unwilling to change take both physical and emotional distance.

    What do I mean?

    Learn, first, to take their damage in a detached manner.

    Don’t let it hurt you further. Instead take a deep breath and distance yourself emotionally.

    Don’t be attached to feelings such as “Why doesn’t she love me?” or “What did I do to deserve this?” or “If he wasn’t like that my life would be perfect”.

    Simply refuse to keep participating in the emotional downward spiral and accept, even if it’s painful” that there is nothing you can do. Accept that even without that relationship you are whole, you are worthy of love and respect.

    They are their responsibility and you are yours. So decide what is best for you.

    Realize it only comes down to two possibilities:

    I keep the relationship and therefore accept the abuse. Or…

    I choose my peace of mind.

    And don’t let your mind fool you. We often think that since we all are imperfect, we must take the good and the bad behaviors of people. And we are especially forgiving towards our family…

    Well, guess what? We are also responsible adults who are aware and must own to their acts. Never excuse abuse or violence or transgression towards you or anybody else.

    Choose your happiness and if possible, also distance yourself physically, as it will increase your peace of mind tenfold.

    How to prevent it

    There are two key concepts you must bear in mind in order to prevent the dysfunctionality of a family:

    • To be completely aware of one’s own mistakes and not allow them to impact others and…
    • To make sure our SO’s are also on the same channel before creating a family (i.e. having children)

    Dysfunctional families are the product of irresponsible paternity, for the decades-long unresolved emotional conflict ends up surfacing in the family inevitably, and it will for sure harm those who least deserve it: Innocent children.

    You may notice we went from talking about family, to talking about individual relationships, to talking about you. We went from “them” to “us” to “me”.

    Why? Because in the end you have the power to fix a dysfunctional family. To correct the mistakes you have in yours and to prevent dysfunctionalities if you don’t have a family but plan to create one.

    Priorities and clear thought

    You may be part of a dysfunctional family, but that does not mean you are powerless or that you have to suffer the consequences.

    You learned today how it’s all a matter of priorities and thinking clearly.

    You learned that, if love exists, everything is possible. You learned that even when there is no love and no fix for your dysfunctional family, there are still things you can do. It’s a matter of choosing your peace, because you deserve it.

    Everything will be better if you apply this knowledge. If you talk to that problematic family member. If you help them see the harm they are doing. If you make sure they do change and treat you the way you need to be treated…

    If you choose yourself over that toxic family member. If you refuse to justify the harm that others can do to yourself. If you realize the most important relationship you have is with yourself.

    And lastly, that you also have to be aware of your actions and be open to criticism. Because we might be unknowingly harming others. And that would be us creating a dysfunctionality. Don’t allow it to happen.

    Dysfunctional families are not impossible to fix. It just takes love, cooperation and responsibility.

    But if you tried and those elements are not present, just choose yourself instead.

    Featured photo credit: Xavier Mouton Photographie via unsplash.com

    Read Next