Wednesday, October 3, 2018

Blood isnt Thicker than Water

You've all heard the particular saying, "family is everything," and thus, "blood is thicker than water," meaning, family ties and blood relations are to be the most prized and highly revered, simply by means of their being family.  Regardless of anything else, regardless of the character or emotional health of these people, that merely by their very title of being blood relations, they are meant to come above everything and anyone else in ones life.

I am going to push back on, challenge, and flat out disagree with that ideology.

Instead of the very blanketed statement of "family is everything" and the idea of blood ever being thicker than water, I would say: 
it very much depends.

For some people, yes, their family is everything to them and for good reason.  Assuming ones family members are kind hearted, genuinely good people who treat their children and loved ones healthfully, with respect, genuine love and support, then yes.  It can be true that ones family is great for them, and thus, it makes sense for them to be extremely highly regarded in ones life.  For these types of family members to be treasured connections.

For many people though, this is sadly not the case.  There is a wide sweeping number of people who have family members that are: manipulative, harmful, deceitful, aggressive, bullying, abusive, toxic, ever the perpetual victim (aka kings/queens of guilt tripping their children), rageful, depressive, incredibly emotionally unhealthy, the list of dangerous/harmful traits goes on.

For people who have family members like the above, as sad as it may be, these family members should not be the connections that are held closest to their hearts.  Instead, these are people that, family or not, should be kept at either a major distance, or potentially at its most extreme, not in their child's/family members life at all.

To clarify: many of us can and do love family members who aren't especially great for us, and often times this is ok (though it does require having strong boundaries and adequate distance between you and said family member much of the time.  To be adjusted and determined by you, depending on how damaging/harmful said person in your family is).

A fair amount of the time, just because someone is emotionally unhealthy or even at times, harmful, does not necessarily mean you cannot love them, have them in your life, and even be close with themYou absolutely can, though with a very clear awareness and thus, strong boundaries and strong mental protections in place with regards to being aware that said family member is not always going to act in ways that are good (and when such does happen, putting up strong lines with yourself and this person accordingly).

And then for some people, a smaller subset (though they are out there), shockingly and heart breakingly, it may very well be that their lives are better for it not having these particular family members in their life.

We live in a culture that, just by nature of someone being a persons "parent" or "sibling," that this automatically makes it inconceivable to not have this person in your life.  That to do so is conceived as some kind of major abnormality and "must" indicate a glaring flaw within the person who decided such.  Unfortunately, that just isnt so.

And its inaccurate, and at worst, damagaing to believe such.  There are some people in our lives, and yes this can be family- parents, siblings, cousins, other relatives, you name it, who, whether blood relation or not, might be downright harmful and bad for us.  That is the painful, though real truth of it.  To not realize, acknowledge, face, or accept this instead means to continue engaging oneself in an unhealthy and potentially even harmful, life-diminishing connection.

It is simply not true that one should keep someone in their life at all costs, purely by means of their being family.  Not if this person brings you emotional/mental/spiritual or physical harm.  Not if this person causes continual drama, trauma, and major stress in your life.

We live in a culture that guilts us with regards to family.  That we should ever forgive our parents, that we should be able to "make it work" with family, that you "don't just cut off your family."  I mean heck, "they're family!"  Whatever that means.  There is a very negative connotation with people who are faced with making incredibly difficult decisions such as these, and its a deeply damaging one.  Forcing those who are faced with these heartbreaking decisions, into feeling things like guilt, shame, as though they are "bad" or wrong for choosing to rid themselves of this toxic or harmful person, who happens to also be a family member.

We cannot choose whom we are born related to.  We can choose though, with whom we maintain close connections.  And we should do so with care.  To stay in a harmful relationship out of guilt or shame because this person "is family" and thats what one "should" do can be a very damaging thing.  We need more support, and far less judgement, for people who are faced with this heart breaking actuality.

This absolutely includes family, along with friends and romantic partners.

To me, family is not necessarily the blood that runs in your veins.  Yes, this is part of it.  Much more so though, your family are the people who: who makes you feel most loved.  Who truly support you (not just feigns at it, while secretly trying to undermine or push you in their direction of preference).  The people who genuinely want the best for you.  Your greatest cheerleaders.  Riveted listeners.  Those who are fun to be around.  Who uplift you.  The ones who are actually there for you, emotionally and literally, in times of need.

These people are your family.

Some of them will be blood relations.

Others will not be.

If someone carries the title of "father," "mother," "sibling," "uncle," you name it, but they are unsupportive, absent, abusive, manipulative, bullying, cruel, untrustworthy, you name it.  That title?  Its just a word, and one that means absolutely nothing at that.  Its not a word embodied by any substance or truth.  Akin to something of a cardboard cutout, fake, a stand-in for a word thats otherwise empty.

Many times, a close friend or romantic partner can be far more family than several of an individuals blood relations are, or have ever been.  For a lot of people, their closest friends are their family.  Their romantic partner becomes their family.

And for many, these chosen family (close friendship, romantic partner, etc) are more loving, supportive, healthier, and better for them than their blood relations are.  

This should be seen as a wonderful and beautiful thing.  Not as something for which someone is condemned and harshly judged.  If one is dealt the hand of an abusive, toxic, or harmful family/blood relations, it should be celebrated and seen as an awesome blessing, as well as a decision and disposition of incredible bravery, strength, and obviously insightful intelligence, the careful choosing of their own family, of people who are truly awesome and good.

For a lot of people, family is an amazing, supportive, heart warming, life affirming, incredibly important thing.  Dont get me wrong.  Many, many people have family members that are supportive, kind hearted, fantastic people.  Both to them personally, as well as in terms of their general character and heart.  For the people whos families are like this, they are incredibly lucky.

Then for another majority of people, they have a few family members like this, while they have others who are on the not-so-great side (and might be better avoided more often than not).

And then for another sweeping number of people, many of their family members are downright awful.  This is a really sad thing.  However, the only way for one to pursue and create healthy relationships in their life is to recognize and face this difficult truth, if its one that happens to be true for them.  And then adjust their life and relations with this person accordingly.

(For some people, this might look like simply seeing this person far less.  Keeping that person at somewhat of an emotional distance and at bay.  Not necessarily trusting that person very much.  While still loving and caring about this family member.  For other people, depending on the emotional health or how harmful this family member of theirs is, it might mean putting up stronger boundaries, or in some extreme cases, removing this person from their life entirely.  All of this is relative to and dependent on the nature of how emotionally unhealthy, stressful, and/or harmful said family member is to them).

The most crucial part of this realization and facing such though?  Having a supportive cultural script for people who are faced with this heartbreaking dilemma and loss.  Not one of guilt, shaming, or judgement.  Instead, there being a cultural response and attitude of empathy, openness, warmth, and support.

For these people, blood is not thicker than water.  Family isn't "everything" (because, how do you think a comment/sentiment like that makes these people feel?  If their family is awful/dysfunctional/harmful/absent, this trite sentiment tells them that actually, they have "nothing"),

Family especially isnt "everything" when ones family are not good for/to them, nor are they good hearted people in general.  And for many, they are better off, happier, healthier, safer, without these family members in their lives.  For many of these people, their family will be chosen instead of blood related.  For a wide sweeping range of people, maybe family will not be the family they were born with.

I don't believe though that this makes these emotional ties and connections any less meaningful, by nature of their not being blood.  For some people, though its a stigma to say but its absolutely a truth, they will find far greater love, deeper connection, and more profound feelings with a small handful of incredibly close friends within their life, and/or with a romantic partner.

There is nothing wrong with this, especially if for these people, their family has never given them that.  On the contrary, their having experienced and found this with found others is both necessary and powerful.  Its life affirming, and incredibly important.  And this is a concept we should both celebrate and support.

We need more of a script, a sense of openness, and a support system for people who face this terrible loss and dilemma of coming to the most difficult life decision of choosing to let a family member go.
As a society, we need to language and awareness to talk about familial loss by choice.  To realize that, very sadly, this is a decision many people face, and its likely one of the most painful and difficult of their lives.  But as a culture, to know that in order for people to live their happiest, healthiest, most flourishing and best lives, this sometimes entails the removing of people from their life (even family) who are harmful and hurtful to them.

For some further reading, here is a supportive article about how to know if its time to let go of someone (titled "Letting Go: How do you know?").

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