You are not your dysfunctional family

This post is for everyone who connected with my Instagram story last week on navigating life within a dysfunctional family. My dms were flooded with so many of you connecting to my thoughts and I am slowly getting back to each and every one of you because it feels important for me to do so. This post is for you – with no paywalls – you are not your dysfunctional family.

Thoughts from today – there doesn’t seem to be the room within society to speak openly about the deep inner despair of living within a dysfunctional family and the detrimental effects on mental health and wellbeing. As if to speak openly invites shame, guilt, judgement and an unsaid whisper that implies you should, in some way, be able to fix it – because, well, they’re your family and families stick together. But living within dysfunctional families can be excruciatingly hard. Deeply challenging. Brimming with confusion. And, in many cases, so very lonely …

I have sat for a few days with the response from my story last week. Overwhelmed with the streams of “Thank you.” The emotive “You’ve made me feel seen.” The confirming “I needed to read this.” The heart-breaking “This is me.” A harsh reminder that this wasn’t just resonating with a few of you but with, frankly, too many of you.

And I knew I had to bring this deeply impactful reality to shape some words here. I knew I needed to hold space and I needed to take some time to consider how I wanted to show up for you in a way that was hopefully helpful, validating and enabled you to feel seen, heard and understood.

I’m, firstly, offering a definition of dysfunctional families –

The Oxford Dictionary defines dysfunction as “not operating normally or properly.”

The very essence of these words within the realms of family can induce such strong emotion. Anger, frustration, immense sadness, and a longing for things to be different because, by its very meaning, it implies that other families operate normally and properly. That reality can hurt.

Yet living within a family where there’s mental health issues, emotional immaturity, unhealed trauma, generational trauma, communication problems, neglect, co-dependency, narcissism, or even abuse highlights just how far from normal your life may feel.

So, holding an awareness that I can’t possibly know what pain so many of you hide behind, I wanted to offer some gently healing words and insights from the hours of being a therapist and sitting with so many who are battling the realities of living within a dysfunctional family:

  • Your feelings towards your family and your experience are valid.
  • You deserve to heal from the pain that you have endured.
  • Some things simply should not have happened.
  • Please know, that you get to choose now how you would like to move forward.
  • You deserve to experience safety.
  • You deserve to feel loved and cared for.
  • The shame and guilt you hold is not yours to carry.
  • It’s understandable that you may feel angry, sad, lost, and frustrated.
  • It’s understandable that you wish things could have been different.
  • It makes sense to me that you can deeply love your family but wish things were different.
  • It also makes sense to me that love feels like a confusing concept.
  • It’s OK to set boundaries.
  • Please know that healing is a possibility to explore.
  • Can you invite in some healing words?
  • Can you offer yourself the healthy love you need?
  • Can you move towards a space that feels safer?
  • Can you gently let go of the hold that grips too tightly?

I hope you can hold these words gently and with compassion to self. Wrap yourself up in the validation. And feel an inner shift that may one day grow into something that feels more hopeful to nurture.

I hope you can reach out to someone you trust. I hope you can feel understood. Move towards the light.

And if you have the privilege of coming from a non-dysfunctional family, I hope you can offer kindness to those around you who may not be so fortunate.

The world needs less judgement, less “Well life’s too short not to make amends.”

Let’s try asking questions instead of assuming. Let’s open ourselves up to be the ones that gently say, “That sounds really hard, would you like to tell me more about how that was for you?”

Let’s listen. Let’s hold space for their experience. Let’s create room that fosters feeling safer. Let’s offer care.

And some favourite quotes that I hope you can hold with tenderness towards yourself:

“I am not what happened to me, I am what I choose to become.” Jung

“You can’t go back and change the beginning, but you can start where you are and change the ending.” C. S. Lewis

“Between stimulus and response, there is a space. In that space lies our freedom and power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and freedom.” Viktor. E. Frankel

And a final note from me, I am opening my comments to all subscribers on Substack today to be part of a loving community, to be heard, to be seen, to be understood. I will also be writing more on this soon but wanted to share a post to hold space for you initially before offering advice on helping you move forward.

Sending love,

Helen xx

Let therapy be the gift to self that shows you the way through, that helps you find a way to live your life with more ease.

Helen Marie