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Last Updated on March 29, 2018

How to Be Happy Again: 13 Simple Ways to Shake off Sadness Right Now

How to Be Happy Again: 13 Simple Ways to Shake off Sadness Right Now

When you look at your own life, maybe you’re thinking about how time has gone by so quickly and you have no idea how you got to where you are at. You might begin to feel sad because you’ve drifted so far from where you wanted to be at your age. Life was much more difficult than you expected it to be, so you just settled and decided to accept that this is just how life is. You’ve given up and your goal now is just to get by.

However, it doesn’t have to be this way. Cultivating much more happiness in your life is a very real and close possibility. You just have to put in a little work.

Here are 13 proven ways to shake off your sadness and feel happy again:

1. Do what brings you meaning

We’ve all been there. A feeling of boredom and being stuck in our lives without knowing what to do. Rather than trying to figure out such heavy questions such as “What is my purpose in life?” it’s much easier to turn on the television and let the day go by.

“When a person can’t find a deep sense of meaning, they distract themselves with pleasure.” -Viktor Frankl

Many affluent people are experiencing unhappiness no matter how much money, respect, or fame they have because of one big reason: Our unhappiness stems ultimately from a feeling of meaninglessness.

Frankl has developed a process called Logotherapy to help people build more meaning in their lives. He was put in charge of the mental health department of the Viennese hospital system because they were losing too many patients to suicide. His practices were what prevented tens of thousands of these patients from killing themselves. He did this by helping instill a sense of meaning to their lives.

What you can do right now:

In moments when you are struggling with unhappiness, you can start applying Frankl’s Logotherapy in your life by doing the following:

  • Work on a project that demands your skills and abilities. If you have trouble coming up with one, then look for something important to work on that will help someone in need.
  • Immerse yourself fully in your experience and share it with people who love you in an authentic, non-judgmental manner.
  • Find a redemptive perspective towards your suffering. Meaning comes in our lives when we change our perspective about our hardships in a way that it improves our lives rather than bringing it down. For example, I met a woman in Thailand once who ran an orphanage with children who were affected by the AIDS virus. She also suffered from cancer, but rather than viewing the illness as something that is ruining her life, she shared with me “It’s kind of like a death sentence when the doctor says to you ‘you’re HIV positive’ or ‘you have cancer’ and it gives me an ability to identify with these children that are HIV positive, so I’m grateful for cancer because of it, if nothing else.”

Recommended reading:

Man’s Search For Meaning by Viktor Frankl

2. Start killing your options and get crystal clear on what you want

“Too many choices exhaust us, make us unhappy and lead us to sometimes abscond from making a decision all together.”[1] Keep your options open” may be advice you’ve heard often. But if you keep your options too open, it usually makes you more unhappy, stressed out, and tired from having to choose between too many things.

When you have too many choices to make, you begin to make more poorer decisions as you make each following one throughout the day. This is what’s known as decision fatigue.

The most important thing you can do to increase your level of happiness is by effectively reducing the amount of any unnecessary decisions you have to make in a day.

What you can do right now:

Set up routines to help you accomplish the following:

  • Make the most important decisions earlier in the day when your mind is more fresh.
  • Try to plan out your day the night before whenever possible.
  • Choose your meals in advance.
  • If you have to make an important decision but you’re hungry, eat first.
  • When you have too many choices, try to narrow it down to choosing between a select few.
  • Automate your life as much as possible by doing the following:
    • Set up automatic payment functions on any bills you have
    • Use free software If This Then That , to automate your life . For example: instead of watching and refreshing to win an auction on Ebay or get that coveted item on Craigslist, have an email notification sent to you, so you can be one of the first to jump on the deal.
    • If your budget allows, hire a virtual assistant or a company like Fancy Hands to take a lot of menial tasks off your plate.

3. Create safe spaces to find yourself and beat the feeling of shame

We’re constantly bombarded with messages that tell us we need to look, act, or be a certain way in order to be happy and successful.

The average person gets exposed to over 10,000 advertisements a day and most of these messages are total nonsense.[2]

All of these false promises given to us each day are what causes us to portray ourselves in a way we think others want us to be so that we can fit in. The sad part is that many of us do find ways to fit in, but we never actually feel like we belong.

When we don’t feel loved and understood for who we truly are, there is no way we can ever be happy. The reason we are often reluctant to be our most authentic selves is because of shame.

At some point in your life, you will run into shame and it will make you feel like there is something wrong with you. Whether it was getting teased at school, not meeting up to your parents’ expectations, or being harshly judged by a peer, shame makes you hide your true self and wear a mask to show someone else.

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    Learning to have the courage to stay true to yourself is one of the keys to longer lasting happiness.

    Dr. Brene Brown, an amazing vulnerability researcher, explained in her TED talk that she once took put a poll on social media asking “How would you define vulnerability? What makes you feel vulnerable?”:

    Within an hour and a half, she had 150 responses. Here’s what some of them said:

    • Having to ask my husband for help because I’m sick, and we’re newly married
    • Initiating sex with my husband / wife
    • Being turned down
    • Asking someone out
    • Waiting for the doctor to call back
    • Getting laid off
    • Laying off people

    Vulnerable moments like these are when we are most prone to feeling shame. Learning about how to handle that shame is what will enable you to recover from it in a healthy way.

    What you can do right now:

    Practice vulnerability.

    Start by looking yourself in the mirror each morning and telling yourself “I’m not perfect, but that’s ok”

    Take Dr. Brown’s simple advice that she gave on the Oprah show. When you experience shame, talk to yourself like you talk to someone you love, reach out to someone you trust, and tell your story.[3]

    Recommended reading:

    I Thought It Was Just Me (but it isn’t): Making the Journey from “What Will People Think?” to “I Am Enough” by Dr. Brene Brown

    4. Engage your curiosity to supercharge your personal growth

    Some of the greatest things that exist in our world today were a result of someone’s curiosity. It’s the reason why people like Steve Jobs, Thomas Edison, and Henry Ford created some of the most innovative products of all time.

    Satisfying your curiosity releases dopamine in your brain.[4] This is also why we absolutely have to finish a great movie and watch it till the end. You want to know what happens and when you finally do, you get that rush of dopamine and get pleasure from it as a reward. The same applies with any habits we’ve formed, such as checking our social media feeds and emails.

    While these kind of things may give you a short moment of happiness, there is a type of curiosity that will give you a more longer lasting happiness. Dr. Todd Kashdan explains it in the terms of being a “curious explorer”.

    “Curious explorers are comfortable with the risks of taking on new challenges. Instead of trying desperately to explain and control our world, as a curious explorer we embrace uncertainty, and see our lives as an enjoyable quest to discover, learn and grow.”

    By using your curiosity to help you get better at something, become more knowledgeable or see something in a new perspective, you’ll find life to be much more enjoyable.

    What you can do right now:

    Kashdan’s suggestions on how to become “Curious Explorers” are summarized in Kari Henley’s Huffington Post article in the following way:

    • Try to notice little details of your daily routine that you never noticed before.
    • When talking to people, try to remain open to whatever transpires without judging or reacting.
    • Let novelty unfold and resist the temptation to control the flow.
    • Gently allow your attention to be guided by little sights, sounds or smells that come your way.

    Recommended reading:

    Curious? Discover the Missing Ingredient to a Fulfilling Life by Todd Kashdan PhD.

    5. Help yourself by helping others

    The happiest people are ones who make a positive impact on others.

    “No man or woman is an island. To exist just for yourself is meaningless. You can achieve the most satisfaction when you feel related to some greater purpose in life, something greater than yourself.” ―Denis Waitley

    Every individual has something they can contribute to the world. The hard part is figuring out what that is. And the truth is, we’ll never figure it out until we actually do something about it.

    Science has shown data that supports the evidence that giving is a powerful way to lasting happiness. If done in the right way, giving can feel great and give you the much needed boost in your mood.[5]

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    “Happiness is only real when shared.” -Christopher McCandless, Into The Wild

    What you can do right now:

    Intentionally begin contributing to something or someone in your life.

    Check out these 20 small acts of kindness to do something bigger than just for yourself.

    6. Get out of your comfort zone to rewire your brain

    Chances are you are unhappy because of the routine. Simply put, you’re bored but at the same time, maybe you’re a little afraid of trying something new. Or, in a more extreme example, you might hate your job but you are too afraid to quit because you’re worried you may become broke with nothing better ahead for you.

      Whatever the case may be, bringing yourself out of your comfort zone as much as possible can result in a  much more satisfying life.

      Scientists have found evidence that if a person steps out of their comfort zone just enough, then they can increase endorphin’s in their brain, which creates increased feelings of happiness.[6]

      What you can do right now:

      • Create more experiences in your life that you can’t back out of. Think of a big goal in your life you’ve always wanted to accomplish, then create a situation that brings you out of your comfort zone that you’ll follow through with.
      • Travel more. Neuroscience has shown that new experiences can build new neuropathways in the brain.[7]When this occurs, it promotes mental health as a result. There is a joy that comes from traveling and whether you’re visiting a foreign country, a nearby city, or even a staycation to a new local restaurant, discovering and experiencing new things can do the trick.[8]

      7. Kick materialism in the face and invest in experiences

      I can’t remember the number of times I was excited to buy a new toy, game, or piece of technology for myself only to get bored of it not too long after. This goes to show material things usually only bring out a temporary amount of happiness at best. Happy experiences last as a happy memory forever.

      While owning material possessions can be nice, they can never be a part of you like great experiences can be a part of you. This is why you should invest more in experiences rather than things.[9]

      “Part of us believes the new car is better because it lasts longer. But, in fact, that’s the worst thing about the new car,” he said. “It will stay around to disappoint you, whereas a trip to Europe is over. It evaporates. It has the good sense to go away, and you are left with nothing but a wonderful memory.” — Dan Gilbert

      What you can do right now:

      Rather than spending your money on buying something a material possession that you’ve always wanted, try these options instead:

      • Invest in a class you have always wanted to take.
      • Book a trip to somewhere you have always wanted to visit.
      • Get tickets to a popular show that you might like.

      8. Meditate regularly

      Self-realization has been shown to have many benefits and this can be achieved by regularly practicing mindfulness meditation.

      Taking a moment to get yourself untangled from all the messy thoughts and emotions you experience can be just the thing you need to be happier. Meditation increases gray matter in the hippocampus, which is an area of the brain important for learning, memory and emotion. It also reduces gray matter in the amygdala, the area of the brain associated with stress and anxiety.

      These are just a few of the many benefits meditation has been shown to give you.

      What you can do right now:

      Download the no-nonsense Headspace meditation app. All you need is 10 minutes and a comfortable chair. If you find yourself thinking you don’t have 10 minutes, then let the truth of Tony Robbins’ words settle in:

      “If you don’t have 10 minutes, you don’t have a life.”

      9. Change your attitude to gratitude

      This is something that’s commonly said, but it comes from a place of truth.

      The Journal of Happiness published a study where the 219 men and women participants involved wrote three letters of gratitude over a three week period. The results showed that writing letters of gratitude increased participants’ happiness and life satisfaction while decreasing depressive symptoms.[10]

      Your brain cannot simultaneously focus on positive and negative things at once. Because of this, practicing gratitude can help you shift your focus from being sad about the things you don’t have in your life to being glad for the things you do have.

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      When you engage in the act of being thankful for something, production of dopamine and serotonin increases.[11] This activates the happiness center of the brain, which is similar to how antidepressants work; so, you could think of gratitude as a natural antidepressant.

      What you can do right now:

      • Start a habit of writing down three things you are grateful for each day.
      • Regularly write a thank you card to someone you appreciate or to someone who has done something recently for you.
      • Inject things you are thankful for in your daily conversations instead of focusing on negative topics.

      10. Create better habits

      One of the biggest difference between happy and unhappy people are the habits they have. Over 40% of your day isn’t spent on making active decisions but is a result of habit.

      The truth about why it’s so hard to break out of old routines is simply the fact that it is a routine. Human beings are creatures of habit. Charles Duhigg explains in his book The Power of Habit how the basic structure of habits consists of a cue (trigger), the routine, and the reward.

        For example, stress can be your cue to engage in your routine of smoking a cigarette, which rewards you with the surge of nicotine to relieve your stress. Duhigg teaches the key to turning bad habits into good ones is to figure out how to change the routine. Rather than smoking, maybe you can go for a nice walk or meditate to achieve the same stress relief.

        If your habits are not making you healthier and happier, that means you may be automatically spending almost half your day doing things that make you more unhappy.

        What you can do right now:

        Changing your habits is much easier said than done, which is why you also need to modify your environment as much as possible to increase your chances of success. After doing so, try and tackle the routines which will help you to replace the bad habits with good habits.

        Recommended reading:

        The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg

        11. Learn how to predict happiness more accurately

        There are plenty of things in life that aren’t as pleasant as you thought they would be.

        You may have always wanted the nice expensive car, but now that you have it, you’re constantly stressed out about any new scratches and annoyed at all the extra unexpected expenses involved with keeping it well maintained and in good condition.

        You may have always wanted to be married, but now that you are, you didn’t realize the immense amount of work it takes to build and maintain a loving relationship.

        Harvard psychology professor Dan Gilbert argues one of the reasons for our unhappiness is by wrongly predicting the types of things that will make us happy.[12]

        “If I wanted to know what a certain future would feel like to me, I would find someone who is already living that future. If I wonder what it’s like to become a lawyer or marry a busy executive or eat at a particular restaurant, my best bet is to find people who have actually done these things and see how happy they are. What we know from studies will increase the accuracy of your prediction, but nobody wants to do it.”

        Simply investing the time and energy to learning more about what you are getting yourself into can increase your chances of accurately placing yourself in happier situations.

        What you can do right now:

        Reach out to people that are living the lifestyle you want or possess something you want to have; get on a call with them, or take them out for coffee. Ask about their experiences, both good and bad, and observe if what they have makes them happier, and then decide if it is something you want as well.

        Speaking to a friend who owns a new piece of technology that you want or is currently involved a career that you want to pursue is easy. Yet, if the person of interest is a celebrity or a highly respected individual, then getting in touch with them will be much harder. In this case, scour any public information such as blog posts, interviews and social media posts to get to know them and help you make a decision whether the life they are living is one you want to pursue.

        Recommended reading:

        Stumbling Upon Happiness by Dan Gilbert

        12. Treat yourself with compassion to boost your self-esteem

        Imagine sitting down in a cafe and overhearing a conversation between two girls at the next table.

        “…and you’ve gotten fatter as well. It’s terrible…”

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        “Don’t you feel horrible right now?”

        “With those large thighs and your horse’s hips?”

        Fortunately, this conversation was staged by the personal care company, Dove. But the conversation was one that actually happened, except it was with one’s self. The script for the actresses were written from actual self-dialogue from women who were documenting the thoughts that they had about themselves each time the thought came to mind.

        Dove ran this campaign to illustrate this point: if we wouldn’t talk to others in this negative manner, why would we talk to ourselves in this way?

        Here’s the video:

        People who practice self-compassion also have greater social connectedness, emotional intelligence, happiness, and overall life satisfaction. So the next time you are feeling low and start nitpicking at yourself, come to your own defense and give yourself a break.

        What you can do right now:

        Here are some ways you can practice self-compassion:

        • Treat yourself as you would your own child.
        • Practice non-judgmental mindfulness (i.e. meditation, yoga) to quiet your inner-critic.
        • Remind yourself of the fact that you are not alone.
        • Give yourself permission to be imperfect.
        • If you struggle with having self compassion and find yourself in need of help, consider hiring a supportive coach or therapist.

        13. Give yourself time to be sad

        Most of the time, people try to avoid negative emotions because they are afraid of the pain and grief they will experience or of the vulnerability it will require. But unless you let those tears come, you will never be able to let go of the emotions. They will stay stuck inside of you.

        It gets even worse when you try and numb your sadness with negative behaviors such as overmedicating, excessively drinking or distracting yourself by overworking. What happens when you numb your negative behaviors is that you are also numbing your positive behaviors.[13]

        Fully experiencing your emotions, whether they’re positive or negative, is important for your own well being.

        “But by throwing yourself into these emotions, by allowing yourself to dive in, all the way, over your head even, you experience them fully and completely. You know what pain is. You know what love is. You know what grief is. And only then can you say, “All right. I have experienced that emotion. I recognize that emotion. Now I need to detach from that emotion for a moment.” Morrie Schwartz, Tuesdays With Morrie

        What you can do right now:

        Get into a habit of identifying your emotions. For example, when you start to feel sad, simply tell yourself “This is sadness.” Once you begin calling your emotions by name, it helps you realize it is an emotion and doesn’t have to define who you are. This is the simple process that lets you ride the wave of emotion and let it pass without letting it take hold of you and controlling your behavior.

        The next time you start feeling sadness, let yourself feel it. Don’t let your fear find an excuse to avoid it. Just like a roller coaster becomes fun after the initial drop, let the discomfort of sadness come through you so you can go back to enjoying your life again.

        The important part of feeling your sadness is to make sure you don’t cross the fine line of dwelling on it and victimizing yourself. Let the feeling come, and when it wants to go, let it go.

        Recommended reading:

        Happiness marks the spot

          Unlike in fairytales, there is no such thing as happily ever after. Instead, it’s similar to there being a variety of scattered treasures buried in a huge field called life. You will need to dig a little to find each treasure as you walk through different points in your life.

          As you continue to go through the daily grind, make the choice to invest time and energy into using the methods outlined here to uplift your spirits. You’ll be happy you did.

          Featured photo credit: unsplash via unsplash.com

          Reference

          More by this author

          Eugene K. Choi

          I coach professionals who feel stuck in their lives develop a customized plan to serve a need that exists in the world by unleashing their passions and talents.

          15 Trustworthy Techniques to Prevent Relationship Problems Meditation for Beginners: How to Meditate Deeply and Quickly 15 Ways Meditation Benefits Your Brain Power and Your Mood How to Be Happy Again: 13 Simple Ways to Shake off Sadness Right Now How to Attain Self-Realization (a Guide to Become a Better You)

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          Last Updated on June 12, 2018

          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

          The link to productivity

          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?

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          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.

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          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.

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          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: Photo by Juliane Liebermann on Unsplash via unsplash.com

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