Resources for transition away from family/individuation
August 24, 2017 1:52 PM   Subscribe

Looking for worksheets, reading material, etc, I can work through to process thoughts and feelings from the process of individuating/transitioning away from my family, particularly anger/guilt.

I didn't really do the teenage rebel stage. I had a somewhat idealized version of my family I believed in, including some hero-worship of older siblings. My family had some problems we didn't really talk about or acknowledge.

I moved to a different country (long term). I got married. I have a kid. I started to only see my family on visits in one direction or the other.

And I started to have a lot of issues/difficulties around those visits, becoming emotionally volatile -- hair-trigger sensitive, cranky, contrary. A bit like a delayed adolescence, where I'm getting all the teenage rebellion done now.

The two big challenges for me are, I think:
1. My parents' relationship and some triangulation there. At this point, I have finally intellectually accepted that I need to let go of attempts at control there - that my father will never change, that my mother has accepted this, and that it is not my business. But I still struggle a lot with anger, resentment, guilt, most especially when I'm together with the two of them, especially because of ongoing attempts at triangulation and not having finished emotionally extricating myself. I feel particular difficulty balancing my anger at my father with trying to maintain a close relationship with him, and guilt/internal conflict about both wanting said relationship (because I love him) and also not wanting it (because it feels like condoning, and because I'm angry).

2. My siblings, and how they perceive/treat me. I'm the youngest and only girl and was never taken seriously. I'm more angry about this as an adult used to being taken seriously, and as I've moved away from my family's politics it's gotten worse. Right now I'm considering taking a break from the family email group for my own emotional health, but the decision is making me feel very guilty, conflicted, "disloyal", etc.

I'm also just generally trying to adjust to the changes in the relationship. Before I married and had a kid I was more available to my family of origin, internally. I'm not as much, anymore. This makes me feel uncomfortable. I guess I'm in transition and haven't hit a new equilibrium yet. Googling suggested that the term "individuation" is relevant to the process I'm undergoing here. I guess I feel some grief about the changes in the relationship, even as I welcome them.

I don't have coverage for therapy and I don't have the budget to pay for it myself, especially given that this is an issue that bothers me and flares up a week or two a year but otherwise has no impact on my general functioning. There's very little for me to do at this point except work through my emotions. The end goal would be getting to the point where I can experience family get-togethers from a more calm, centered place and where my reactions would have greater levels of equanimity (not expecting perfection here, just improvement on those vectors, especially so that I can have emotional resources left over for my new family)

So I'm looking for worksheets, books, articles- anything that would help me do that work myself. Also I guess personal stories of people getting through a similar transition, just because I have no sense of what is normal here, in terms of timelines, process, etc.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (5 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
I went through this a few years ago. I was very, very close with my family, was a boomerang kid (spent every summer at my parents' house in college, moved back for a couple of years afterwards), never really did a full-on rebellion as a teenager - I was a pretty "good" kid and my family is very functional so I guess I never really felt the need to.

Anyway, I then moved about 4,000 miles away and, over a period of about a year or so, went through my own individuation process. I'm trying to remember how it started - I think just the distance, and starting to unpack the childhood/family roots of some of my own dysfunction, made me start to question my view of my family. Our "shared narrative" is that we're a really supportive, loving, close family, and we are, but there are also some things my parents did when I was a kid that turned out to be sort of emotionally damaging. And I started to realize ways that my parents, especially my father, were still replicating some of those things.

It was a rough couple of years with my family, to be honest. I think it both helped and hurt that we were so far away. It helped because it gave me the space I needed to go through this, and hurt because I think it drove us further apart than we necessarily needed to be. There were some tense visits, etc. My father and I definitely fought more than we had in years.

I will say that therapy helped a lot. It was really good to have someone to talk through things with, to put things in context and perspective. I went for another reason, and we didn't talk about my family a lot - I bet in your case, even a few sessions would be helpful.

Things are a lot better now. A few of the blowout fights I had with my father were really helpful. He and I have also gotten to the point where I can say "hey Dad, you're [doing that thing that bothers me] again, could you not?" and he will stop. (He still doesn't think it's a big deal, which is annoying, but at least he'll stop)

I think my relationship with my parents is better than it was before this. Mostly I think because I've come to accept them for who they are - very loving people with very human flaws. They both went through a LOT as kids (war, abuse) and have done a really good job of becoming whole people and giving us a safe, loving home to grow up in. But that also doesn't mean they were perfect, and I get to be honest, at least with myself, about the impact their damage had on me. I have a lot more empathy for them than I had before, and I also can stand up for myself a lot better than I could before. I don't know if we would have gotten to this place if I hadn't gone through a few years of being mad at them.
posted by the sockening at 2:21 PM on August 24, 2017 [2 favorites]

hi! i am a therapist and currently working on this issue with a client - have been reading up on Family Systems Theory (which you seem to also be reading up on!) in order to help her. my first suggestion would be "get therapy!" but you mentioned this is financially unviable for you right now - thats a shame, but understandable.

i wish there were worksheets to recommend but i dont know of any. it sounds like you are doing a good job of informing yourself of the concepts and trying to apply them. these would be my tips -

1. try to take a stance of neutral curiosity with regard to your family's dynamics. observe them and "collect data" on the ways they interact as though you are a researcher. having this stance allows you to remain emotionally disentangled.

2. try to remain emotionally non-reactive when you interact with them. think about your values and how you would like to "be" with them. try to be this way. it can be very hard to not be emotionally reactive when you are used to interacting in that way, and your "buttons get pressed" by their behaviours. but if you can remain non-reactive you will break out of the system dynamic. (beware of potential disapproval of other family members when you do this. they might try to draw you back in to the emotional system. try to stay strong and stick to your values and hopefully they will "come around" to your new way of being.)

3. look for predictable patterns in the emotional system. observe this, so you can map it and predict it. this will allow you to "plan ahead" and think out different ways of responding. always be "collecting data" in the manner of a neutral researcher, and predicting the behaviours, and planning to act differently --> in line with your own values.

the client i am working with has also moved away from her family, but feels constantly drawn back into the family crises. the family operates in a state of unrelenting crises. just through observing this, and stepping back from it, and seeing how it draws her in, allows her to make a conscious choice to not be drawn back in. while maintaining healthy (minimal, for now) contact with them. she struggles with constant guilt about not being there with them, and doesnt believe she deserves to be happy in her own (individuated) life. so by observing these forces and emotions, we can work on conscious choices about what will nourish her, rather than her automatic emotional responses, as informed by the family emotional system...

i hope this has been helpful, good luck to you :)
posted by beccyjoe at 3:24 PM on August 24, 2017 [3 favorites]

Have you read the Dance of Anger by Harriet Lerner?
You can try some of these DBT skills worksheets.
posted by SyraCarol at 3:47 PM on August 24, 2017 [3 favorites]

I'd suggest you look at Necessary Losses by Judith Viorst.

It's been around for a long time, like 30 years, so you can likely find it in libraries and used book stores.

The full title is: "Necessary Losses: The Loves, Illusions, Dependencies, and Impossible Expectations That All of Us Have to Give Up in Order to Grow," which pretty much says it all.
posted by jasper411 at 10:34 PM on August 24, 2017

Nthing Harriet Lerner - Dance of Anger,
posted by 15L06 at 2:02 AM on August 25, 2017

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