Life lessons from a dysfunctional family (PLUS what others think of you and how to banish anxiety from your life)

When my mother fell gravely ill recently, I was confronted by who my family really are. While gut-wrenchingly disappointed by the recent lack of familial support, I learned a most important life lesson. The chasm between who you who think your loved ones are, and the reality of who they are, is often achingly wide.

We see it often in movie-plots – when the matriarch / patriarch of a family die, the family gathers together from their disparate
realities to mourn, and we watch spell-bound as the personalities clash, old hurts re-surface, the fabric of the family unravels, and long-held secrets are unveiled. In the movies, however, it usually ends in a heart-warming reunion of mutual understanding and
re-newed love. The reality is far less wholesome or satisfying.

Mine is a fairly traditional family, where men are awarded authority on the basis of their genitalia, rather than merit, and birth order is often held up as a rationale for decision-making. While this has always enraged and infuriated me, my parents recently learned (the hard way) just who will step-up and make the hard decisions, and who will duck and weave responsibility. Even symbolic acts of support, such as sending flowers, became telling signs of who cares – and who doesn’t. Behind the façade of family unity, the cracks really started to show when it was time to pay the bills. Fortunately, I was able to make the life-changing decisions on my own. If I’d been waiting on family to contribute (fiscally, emotionally or intellectually), our Mother would have been long gone.

The life lesson brought home to me by all of this was stark: in life’s moments that matter – we are alone.

We often feel that no-one understands us – and we’re right. No-one truly knows your darkest fears. Few share your passions. Some share your views. Others travel part of our life’s journey with us, but no-one travels the whole journey. No-one can do your exams / say your vows / give birth* / sit a job interview / die for you. (*Assuming you’re pregnant to begin with. Otherwise, you could, in some countries, have someone have it for you. Or you could adopt.)

Whatever others may say or do, the copious advice or support they may offer – when the hard decisions have to be made – it is we alone that must make them, we alone that must be willing to defend our actions, and live with the consequences. This is often immaterial day-to-day, it’s only when it REALLY matters that we notice it most.

This need not be disheartening. In fact, such knowledge can be liberating. If we are truly alone when it matters , then what does it matter what others think of us? Surely, this means we are free to live our own life. Having recently just come out, I found the idea rather exhilarating.

It’s all too easy to become paralysed by the expectations of others. Fearing judgement, or worse – failure! – we resolve not to try at all.

Well, I hate to break it to you, but no-one’s watching. Ethel Barrett said it best:

“We would worry less about what others think of us if only we realised how seldom they do.” – Ethel Barrett

You’ll never please everyone else, so you may as well please yourself! Quit living for others, and start following your own heart. Shed the expectations of your family, friends and colleagues; set aside the judgment of others – if they won’t be there when it matters – what does it matter what they think?!

Go forth and live your OWN life!


About Lyn Campbell

Lyn likes to be thought of as insightful, articulate and achingly clever, but she's just a bit of a nerd, really. _____________________________________________________ All written content copyright © Lyn Campbell 2008-2012. All rights reserved. No written content may be used, in part or in full, without the author's express written permission. (Pictures available from Google - copyright unknown unless otherwise credited).
This entry was posted in Family, Feminism, Happiness, Life, taking control of your life and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

10 Responses to Life lessons from a dysfunctional family (PLUS what others think of you and how to banish anxiety from your life)

  1. Mel says:

    Yep. Everything you say is so true.
    It’s a shame, but it seems that the time we realise this truth about our lives is usually after going through some heavy stuff. I guess that’s how we learn the lesson…

  2. Julia O'Boyle says:

    Gorgeous writing Lyn…glad I found you. Hope all is well in your world

    JuliaO xx

  3. zmanowner says:

    Outstanding post, might have to [remember] some parts of it….its so true about what happens when a family dies i.e mom or dad and who will step to make sure all is taken care off and things are straight. I dont think i have that kind of family but your right poeple show their true colors in stressful times……..

    Life is what happens when you are busy making other plans – John Lennon……zman sends

  4. Tamrah Jo Ortiz says:

    Hear-Hear! I believe anyone who has gone through the ‘forest of crisis’ (no matter what the cause) can relate to what you’ve said and those who haven’t, well, there are just some things we simply can’t learn through the experience of others, no matter how much we may wish to.
    I, too, went through a period of losses where I came to the same realizations you did – – I now understand what so many of the ‘spiritual’ teachers of the ages have said in a way I never could have before life turned upside down – loss and pain have such great gifts to give us, if only we choose to acknowledge them.
    Best wishes to both you and your mom! Hang In and Hang Tough!

  5. Andy says:

    I agree with these points. As a devout Christian, I never gave it serious thought of the actions my own parents exhibited when I was a kid. They devoted their lives to simple servant leadership as counselors, and active civic roles in the community where I grew up. They did this never asking in return. Now years later in their own struggles of maintaining decent health they are having to constantly re-adjust many daily routines to take care of themselves. Sometimes, this even means changing their outlook on who is and is not important in their lives. In times of personal difficulty in my own life, I too had to learn, it is not selfish to take care of yourself first. After all, how can we be alert enough to help others if we so choose, when our own self-state and position in life is not healthy. God Bless and Peace.

  6. Ivy Blaise says:

    “We often feel that no-one understands us – and we’re right. …” – hmmm have had the same thoughts for a while. You are right though… the big decisions are the ones we have to make ourselves because no-one else can do it for us. It can be very hard but also liberating. I decided about a month ago to end a 11 year relationship. It was so very difficult but I know I did the right thing. Now… it still feels sad but I also know I did it for the right reasons and I can live my life according to my rules and my expectations, no-one else’s. We are the architects of our own lives in the end.

    Loved the quote!

    Hope your mum is better. It is great that you could step in and be there for your parents. It is maddening when realizing how different people can be when it actually matters.

    • Lyn Campbell says:

      Thanks for your support Ivy. Congratulations on your recent big life decision. I felt the same way about ending my marriage a few years ago, but it is worth the pain and soul-searching – considerable though it is.

      • Ivy Blaise says:

        Anytime. Sounds like you have more guts than most of your family members.

        Oh and thanks for the congratulations. You are actually the first to congratulate me on this decision which is much nicer than the commiserations. 🙂

      • Lyn Campbell says:

        That’s just because most people don’t understand how tough it is to MAKE that decision, and how vital it is to find your true self – and light your own path. Most people are so afraid of being alone (and the exposure that creates) that they’d rather feel oppressed and stifled in their quiet lives of desperation, obligation and habit, then dare to learn to stand on their own. It’s kind of like braving the still morning frost to feel the invigorating ‘burn’ of that fresh, clean morning air.

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