In the example I gave yesterday of the mother and daughter locked in a dance of unproductive suffering, it would be hard to overemphasize just how challenging it is to change old, habitual patterns of behaving.
One of our adult children moved home in recent months to save money for his next grand adventure. I’ve found myself on the receiving end of several, kind, respectful conversations reminding me that he is an adult and we need to relate as two adults, not as mom and child.
I’ve really appreciated the way we have seemed to avoid frayed nerves and conflict because of his willingness to speak up. Even when my actions aren’t serving us well, I seem to resist making needed changes. The pull of falling into the old ways of being mother and son is a strong gravitational force. It seems that all of us have a tendency to stubbornly stick with certain ways of behaving even when they are not helpful.
I have a friend who helps me remember to practice change. She has a child who is in active addiction and she has been forced to change how she relates to him. I admire her willingness to keep looking for more effective ways to support recovery and stop enabling the addiction cycle. She inspires me to want to be the kind of person who is teachable, flexible and willing to practice new ways of living.
Debra Jay asks her readers to consider the following questions (I have paraphrased and selected a few but you can find the entire list on p.55 of her book “No More Letting Go.) as a way to increase awareness of the need for change:
- What old actions does your family keep trying, expecting different results while only getting the same reactions?
- What roles are family members playing – rescuer/manager/shamer/withdrawer?
- In what ways does your family act under stress? Helpful or not?
- Do you have a habit of giving up in your pursuit of a healthier lifestyle for you and your family?
There are a ton of ways we make family issues worse. The good news is they tend to be patterns that, if we are willing to see, are apparent. Once we recognize our problem, we can begin to look for new ways to respond and readily make amends when we fall back into old ways. I’ve apologized several times in the last year for my helpfulness!! Truth is – it wasn’t helpful at all. Perhaps the biggest truth we need to tell is that one – our best efforts to help may be harming. Surely we want to change that, right?