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The Great Perils of Social Interaction You’re Probably Experiencing

The Great Perils of Social Interaction You’re Probably Experiencing

The perils of social interaction? Yes Wait But Why has this insightful explanation.

If an alien ever immigrated to Earth, he’d be a social disaster.

He’d try his hardest to learn by observing how humans behave, but it wouldn’t be easy—he’d see someone ask a stranger for a cigarette and he’d go ask for a sip of someone’s latte. He’d see a couple kissing on the street and he’d go try to kiss the policeman on the corner. He’d stare. He’d get food all over his alien face. And when he got tired, he’d lie down on the sidewalk.

Our alien immigrant wouldn’t last a day before being arrested. He wouldn’t be behaving correctly, and he’d quickly be forcefully removed from society.

That’s the way things are—there is an intricate set of thousands of social rules, and we’re all sharply attuned to them. If we weren’t, we’d be sent away somewhere. Even being nearly perfect will get you into trouble—you can have 98% of the rules down cold, but that last 2% will leave you with a reputation of “rude” or “weird” or “creepy.”

But the hardest part of trying to abide by the Social Rulebook is that it’s far from a perfect book. It’s a lot like the Constitution:

  • It takes you to a certain point but then leaves much up to interpretation
  • There are parts that are outdated or badly thought-out and terribly in need of an Amendment
  • And to further complicate things, every nation, ethnicity, culture, and subculture has its own unique version of the Rulebook

Unfortunately, in the world of social interaction, there’s no Supreme Court to interpret tricky situations, no legislature to amend bad rules, and no international law to help standardize things across cultures.

It’s the wild west out there.

So you’re welcome to head out into public, but before you do, I’ll sprinkle you with just a sampling of the perils you’ll face, as a final warning—

Perils of Interacting With Friends and Family

You’d think that friend and family interactions would be on the safer side, since those people are likely to be using mostly the same version of the Rulebook as you. The problem is, with those closest to you, an expectation of intimacy and comfort puts pressure on each interaction going well, your history together often leaves things highly charged, and since this is the arena where gossip and long-term memory live, the stakes are at their highest. Also, you’re probably kind of an awkward person and awkward people are never safe, no matter whom you’re with.

When meeting up with a friend or family member, things can get tricky before they even start, with a potential 30-Second Hello:

initial recognition

    And just when you’re relieved that that’s over, you’ll find yourself trying to pick a door in one of the great social struggles of our time, The Handshake/Hug Decision of Doom:

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      handshake-3

        I’ll be 90 and I still won’t have figured this out. There are different rules for everyone and nothing’s clear—Do I shake my grandfather’s hand or go for the hug? How about my friend’s father? Old friend? New friend? Opposite-sex acquaintance? Longtime work colleague? Sibling’s good friend who I’m meeting for the second time? It’s unbelievably complicated.

        And there aren’t just two options you’re choosing from—there’s the high school bro handshake/backslap douche possibility, there’s the vertical, loose-hand high-five that morphs into a weird springy-finger tension thing as you snap away, there’s even the easy but taking-yourself-really-seriously non-ironic fist pound. And even if you both go for the hug, there’s a question of duration and firmness and who’s in charge of those decisions.

        (Hugs are a weird concept, by the way. There are a large handful of people in my life I hug tightly every time I say hi or goodbye to them who I would never in any other circumstances touch that intimately. It kind of makes no sense. Whoever wrote the Social Rulebook didn’t really think that hard about it.)

        Anyway, just when this couldn’t get any harder, somewhere along the line, society decided it was a good idea to bring kisses into the mix. Kisses were doing just fine in the romantic and parent-child arenas, and it’s unclear why kisses have any part in any other situation. Unless it’s specifically part of your culture, no one under the age of 18 kisses people when they greet them, and as you move into the adult world, you’re just expected to figure out when to kiss people during a greeting. And there are multiple versions of kiss too—the light cheek kiss, the near-cheek air kiss, the absurdly drawn-out one-kiss-on-each-cheek-as-if-we’re-an-Arabian-prince skit—all further complicating the situation and putting us in deep peril of the dreaded Accidental Mouth Kiss:

        kiss1

          After surviving the greeting, some close friends continue to show affection, which leads to more trouble, such as The “Wait How Do We Stop Doing This” Physical Contact Situation. I often end up resorting to making up a drastic thing I need to do with my arms.

          adjacent-embrace-1 adjacent-embrace-2 adjacent-embrace-3 adjacent-embrace-4 adjacent-embrace-5 adjacent-embrace-6

            And all of this is nothing compared to The Money-Related Song and Dance. There’s the obvious:

            restaurant-1 restaurant-2

              restaurant-31restaurant-4

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                  But friends can break into a Money-Related Song and Dance almost anytime, anywhere:

                  tic-tacs tic-tacs-2

                    And it’s not just limited to transactions. At some point between the ages of 22 and 40, it goes from being totally okay to discuss your income, price of rent, and general financial situation with friends to not really okay at all. And we all have to figure out how to make that transition.

                    Perils of Interacting With Acquaintances

                    An acquaintance is someone you know, but you don’t hang out with them socially, and if you ever did, it would only be as part of a large group of people. It could be someone you went to high school with but were never friends with, someone who lived down the hall from you in college for a year, a friend of someone you know, or someone you work with or used to work with but you don’t know very well.

                    Most of the time you’re with friends, things are fine—the awkward parts are the exception to the rule. But with acquaintances, awkwardness is the rule. My theory is that the word “acquaintances” is derived from the word “awkward” to mean “people you’re awkward with” and was originally spelled “awkwaintances,” but then they changed the spelling to try to make things less awkward.

                    Here’s the issue—there are three ways to converse with someone:

                    1) Pre-Written Social Skits—You do this when you’re not trying to get to know someone better but you’re also scared to just act normally around them.

                    2) Climbing the Hill—Trying to get to know someone better or to catch up on their life.

                    3) Being Normal—Accepting the state of a relationship and just enjoying whatever you can from each other’s company.

                    In general, the main thing that makes interactions awkward is inauthenticity. Authentic is the enemy of awkwardness, and with acquaintances, the only two authentic options are #3 or, if you really do want to advance the relationship into friendship territory, #2. Since usually, neither party actually wants or plans to become better friends, we’re left with “Being Normal” as the key to acquaintance interaction. But here’s where we run into trouble. This is how most people see these three above types of interaction:

                    Acquaintance-graph

                      But that assumes that you can only be normal around someone you know well, which is not true. I started using a new barber last year, and I was pleasantly surprised when instead of making small talk or asking me questions about my life, he just started talking to me like I was his friend or involving me in his conversations with the other barber. By doing so, he spared both of us the massive inauthenticity of a typical barber-customer relationship and I actually enjoy going there now. He doesn’t go by the above graph, but rather, sees things more like three doors that you can choose from:

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                      doors

                        You’re not required to either smalltalk or pretend to want to get to know someone—it’s a choice to do either and you can choose “Be Normal” instead. Unfortunately, the Social Rulebook doesn’t talk about being normal with acquaintances, only a bunch of chapters about how to survive the terror of an acquaintance interaction, authentic or not. We badly need to make a Rulebook amendment here—until we do, my barber relationship will be a rare one.

                        For now, we’re stuck with things like The Work Acquaintance Trap, which happens when two people who are acquaintances by circumstance and have to see each other every day make the short-sighted mistake of sacrificing what had been the peace of an authentic non-relationship for the hell of a permanently-stuck-in-#1 cycle:

                        work-0 work-1 work-2 work-3 work-4

                          Because conversation type #1 involves a large number of pre-written-by-society, canned Robot Phrases, The Work Acquaintance Trap also leaves you at great risk of a Robot Phrase Mismatch:

                          WhatsUp

                            Even worse is running into an acquaintance in public. Both people are typically so petrified by the awkward-potential that they end up acting insane. And it can go on for a hideously long time if anyone makes the grave error of asking about the other’s life, leading to The Everlasting Acquaintance Run-In:

                            run-in-1 run-in-2 run-in-3 run-in-4 run-in-4.5 run-in-5 run-in-6

                              Perils of Interacting With Strangers

                              Interacting with strangers is another way of saying “interacting with the rest of your species,” and it’s often uncomfortable. Even though unlike the former two categories, nothing real is at stake (other than your dignity), stranger interactions can provide some of the most awkward moments in life.

                              Introductions are awkward by nature, and they’re severely complicated if you’re not entirely sure of whether the person you’re introducing yourself to is actually a stranger. The main way to get yourself into trouble is having a bad memory for whom you’ve met before, which can lead to a Nice to Meet You / Nice to See You Disaster:

                              see-meet

                                Then, of course, there’s The Sidewalk Direction-Mirroring Quagmire:

                                walking-direction-1 walking-direction-2 walking-direction-3 walking-direction-4 walking-direction-5 walking-direction-6 walking-direction-7 walking-direction-8 walking-direction-9

                                  One of the most asinine and outdated clauses in the Social Rulebook states that despite having zero relationship with me whatsoever, a nearby stranger must vocally command God to save me if I inhale some pollen. The Inexplicable Sneeze Standoff is possibly the single most awkward part of my life, especially since I’m a Multiple Sneezer.

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                                    Men also deal with a whole pile of stranger awkwardness in the urinal arena. This might just be a weird issue I have, but at some point, I become incapable of peeing if there’s some pressure to pee and I start to think too hard about it. Being next to one other person at the urinal in an otherwise-silent bathroom usually does the trick:

                                    urinal-1 urinal-2 urinal-3 urinal-4

                                      In the rare circumstances that the other person next to me is a weird neurotic person too, we run the horrifying risk of a Silent Urinal Standoff Nightmare:

                                      urinal-b-1 urinal-b-2

                                        Considering all of the hazards out there in the world, you’d think at least an interaction with a not-yet-sentient blob would be safe. Think again. Interacting with stranger babies in public is a high-stakes endeavor—if they respond well to you, you’re the most charming person in the room and everyone is suddenly smiling at you and wants to marry you. It goes like this:

                                        baby-1 baby-2 baby-3

                                          The baby acted like a reasonable person and everything went well. But the problem is, a large percentage of babies are bad, and you never know who’s who. Nothing will make you look and feel like a big weirdo quicker than a baby reacting badly to you. Beware The Bad Baby:

                                          baby-4 baby-5 baby-6 baby-7

                                            baby-8 baby-9

                                              It’s a tough world out there. And just when you’ve had enough and you’re heading home to safety, you’ll likely say goodbye to whomever you’re with before realizing you’re about to embark together on a Same Walking Direction Post-Goodbye Walk:

                                              goodbye goodbye-2 goodbye-3

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                                                More by this author

                                                Anna Chui

                                                Anna is a communication expert and a life enthusiast. She's the editor of Lifehack and loves to write about love, life, and passion.

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                                                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?

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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…

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                                                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

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