Sunday, September 2, 2012

Why the Family of Man Is Just Like the One Next Door

Many years ago I was fascinated to hear the New York Times bestselling author and one of America's leading personal growth experts, John Bradshaw, declare that "97% of all families are dysfunctional and the other three percent are lying."  After his presentation, I realized that people have been agonizing over family relationships since Cain and Abel.  Today, even though help is as close as the nearest library or a counselor -- the same dysfunctional situations are all around us, and quite likely, in our own family.

I don't know about anyone else, but my rationale (excuse) for not seeking help sooner was thinking that with patience, prayer and loving kindness my situation would resolve itself.  It didn't.  The emotional pain has lessened, but the situation itelf has never been resolved.  After all these years, I realize an even deeper truth.  I was fearful of facing my problem because if what my family member thought of me turned out to be the true essence of me, that would be even more humbling, humiliating and hurtful.

The question I used to ask to beat myself up with was: How could I be so horrible that this person, who I love dearly, can't stand me?  At the same time, some of my friends have shared similar familial challenges and are asking that same question, or the reverse: What is wrong with me that I can't love or even stand to be around my son or daughter, sister or brother or -- the holy of holies -- my mother or father?

For decades I have heard such poignant tales from others that whenever I became aware that someone I knew was in the throes of coping with a dysfunctional personal relationship, I took the opportunity to state the following observation:  When we're born into this lifetime we should each come in with a warranty, that includes a section on how life on Earth is really meant to work, what we came in to learn and, if appropriate, a few ready apologies.  Not only that, but this information should be printed on a placard to wear around our necks to let other unsuspecting souls know what lessons we're here to learn.

While that information would definitely help us understand why we act or react the way we do, I'm no longer interested in what could-a, or would-a-been a big help.  I am so ready to do whatever will help me heal and come to peace with this issue.  After more years than I am comfortable admitting, I finally reached out for help--a new habit that is serving me well.  I asked a spiritually-based counselor to assist me in gaining insight into my dysfunctional family relationship.

His input was surprising and stunning: He explained that in our dualistic world (good-bad, life-death, night-day, right-wrong, and up-down) when we find ourselves in conflict with another person, we have a predictable response: We are right, and the other person is wrong.  With our dualistic understanding of either-or, there is no alternative.  He continued by saying, "The emotions surrounding the issue soon become blown all out of proportion to the original issue itself and it becomes a life or death situation.  While on a conscious level this response seems irrational, on a subconscious level we actually believe that being wrong truly means death, as far as our ego-self is concerned."

It seems that as long as we buy into thinking dualistically and continue to come from the part of our outer-ego self, instead of our inner authentic Self, we believe we must be right or die.  If we continue to function from that win-lose illusion, we can expect to experience ongoing conflict, confusion, stress, strain and suffering.

The counselor further defined and clarified the process by stating,"The longer the conflict continues, the more levels of emotion are added and any possibility for resolution disappears.  The truth is," he added, "the more we fight to be right, the more negative energy is added to the situation and the ultimate illusion we end up holding onto is that if we can prove ourselves right and the other person wrong, the other individual will accept and love us once again and all will be well."  Wrong.  The breach only widens.

At that point, we have several options: We can choose to be submissive and accept we are the one who is wrong, which compromises our deepest sense of self-worth, or continue the fight.  And since either choice is an obvious no-win situation, the outcome remains hopeless.

I got the message.  If we really desire to work through such painful conflicts with a loved one, we must bypass the ego and turn within to our real Self.  This is the center of divine intelligence-energy-love that exists within every human being.  Here we will find the font of truth and wisdom that will help us resolve the situation, and all the symptoms of duality will disappear.

The big question the counselor indicated that is so difficult for most people to ask themselves is simply: What is the truth of this situation?  I took that as a challenge in my own family.  I wrote the question out, and took the necessary time to turn within and allow the answer to come from the core of my being.  The process took a number of attempts, but patience paid off.

The answer that finally resonated within me was that I needed to forgive myself for not being the perfect daughter, sibling, wife and mother I desired to be and thought I was--at the time.  I wasn't thrilled with this response at first, but soon realized it was the truth of me.  Although striving to be perfect was something I had lived with all my life -- and I still believe it has some positive aspects -- in retrospect I realized that it usually meant judging my self harshly for all the times I fell short.

The counselor's parting advice was invaluable: "Remember if you are hurting, it is your problem, not the other person's.  Their situation and whether or not they choose to heal is none of your business.  Know that at the time the drama-trauma occurred in your life it was a wake-up call from your soul to learn lessons that allowed you to become who you are now.  Be grateful for that.  It takes courage, forgiveness, good thoughts and a deep heart's desire to continue changing and growing.  Be gentle and kind to yourself and bless the family member who brought you to this new awareness--and release any expectations."

I discovered recently that once we gain insight into a life issue, that's only half the equation.  We also have to take the new awareness in and make it part of our lives.  In this instance, as many times a day as I think of it, I repeat the Dalai Lama-inspired affirmation for myself and my family member by saying alternately: May you (or May I) be truly happy.  May you be healthy.  May you be safe.  May you be loving kindness.  May you know the power of love and forgiveness.

Just becoming aware of the fact that I had been caught up in the current culture of dysfunctional duality was enough to cause a desired shift in my consciousness.  Now that I am following a healing process based on love and oneness instead of separation and ego, I know that the emotional energy that bound this painful issue to me is being released.  Hallelujah!
Copyright 2012 by Fern Stewart Welch

The author's books: "Tea with Elisabeth," recipient of the 2010 Silver Award for Non-fiction; "You Can Live a Balanced Life In An Unbalanced World," and "The Heart Knows the Way--How to Follow Your Heart to a Conscious Connection with the Divine Spirit Within," are available at and other online booksellers, as well as bookstore chains such as Barnes & Noble.