It’s natural to want to show off your newly gained self-confidence, self-awareness, and serenity to your family of origin. You go to them hoping for enthusiastic approval. When you don’t get that approval you may feel like you’re a failure. You’re not.

Your family of origin is the most difficult place of all for you to maintain your new way of being in the world.

Diane was well along in her growth process when she risked visiting her parents. Fortified by successful relationships with her friends and co﷓workers she was stunned to find herself almost immediately feeling like a helpless little girl trying to resist her father’s orders.

Like Diane, you may find that you regress to old feeling and behavior patterns, when with your family. Why? There are so many subtle communications among people who have been close to each other for a long time. These communication cues are so deep and basic they often operate below your level of awareness.

Diane responded to a whole range of cues, from verbal to visual to physical and emotional, that reminded her of how she was supposed to behave when she was a child. She soon felt like she was about 8 years old again.

Here are some things you can do to avoid slipping back into old patterns:

  • Don’t go with an agenda to change your family. It’s an impossible job for you to do.
  • Avoid flaunting your new behaviors. They probably will not be appreciated in your family.
  • Become an observer. Notice as much as you can about the cues that invite you to regress.
    Notice the communication patterns. Are they indirect? Who talks to whom? About what?
  • Be prepared to give your family as much as you can of what they expect from you. If you’ve always helped with the dishes this is not a good time to stop. If you’ve always been your mother’s confidante, listen sympathetically but this time avoid trying to help her solve her problems.
  • Use the language that’s familiar to your family. Avoid using any kind of jargon.
  • Think about what you want from the visit. Ask for it — diplomatically. If you don’t get, it be prepared to retreat.
  • Be prepared to withdraw from conflict and redirect the conversation. Try saying, “I think I didn’t make myself clear. What I was really trying to tell you is…”

If you still get caught up in your old patterns, forgive yourself.

When you get away from your family, write down a description of what happened, step by step. Include as many of the words as you can remember. In the margin add a description of your feelings and thoughts at the time you made each statement.

Look at your reactions and try to figure out an alternative response for each step of the conversation. Don’t be discouraged if progress is slow. Old patterns have been around a long time, and it may take a long time to change them.

[tags]self help, self-improvement, parents, relationships, personal growth, emotional problems [/tags]