It is a tired topic. As much as we love and adore them, our
family can take us from 0 to 60 on the rage and frustration meter in 2.6
seconds. I might be willing to die for these people but I also may be the cause
of their demise if they don't SHUT UP AND LEAVE ME ALONE. And it's not just me.
I can’t count how many times I have heard the equivalent of “I had
Sunday dinner with the family and after two hours I was about to go
psycho!” The offending relative is
usually participating in a variety of seemingly innocuous actions such as:
clicking their dentures, telling the same story eight times, falling asleep
when it's their turn while playing cards, asking "So when you are going to
get married?” or saying "I sure could use another piece of that pie." We
may not even notice when a friend or coworker says or does the same thing, but
when it's Uncle Ed we want to punch him.
Frank McCourt is a favorite author of mine (Angela's Ashes, Teacher Man, etc.). His writings prove that this family hair trigger of anger surpasses the boundaries of ethnicity, religion, social status or region of the world. Consider what he has to say in "Tis'", about his mother who was a near saint having survived poverty, starvation, the birth of seven children and death of three, a neglectful alcoholic husband and relocation from Ireland to New York late in her life;
"She tells me I look fine though I should do something about my eyes, they're that red and "your a bit old to be having bad eyes". I want to snap at her that I'm twenty nine and I don't know the proper age for not having bad eyes and is this what she wants to talk about the minute she arrives in New York? In the taxi she says, "Lord above, look at all those motor cars. The roads are packed." I say, "You should have seen it an hour ago, traffic was even worse". She says she doesn't see how it could be worse. I am trying to be patient and I'm telling her that it was worse. She won't give up and I won't though I'm looking at the pettiness of the two of us and wondering why I'm arguing instead of celebrating the arrival of my mother in the city all of us dreamed of all our lives. Why does she pick on my eyes and why do I have to contradict her over the traffic?"
"Coping.org: Tools For Coping With Life Stress has this to say;
Use a rational approach to rethink and reason in your mind what is going on and why you are angry.
· Is this a event bringing up old unresolved anger or resentment in me?
· How is what is happening to provoke my anger a product of my past?
· What is really getting me angry?
Much of the research I did on why and how we seem to get so incensed with family members revolves around the theme of unresolved issues or past patterns. When we do not have the tools to handle a situation, the offending issue imprints itself but there is no resolution. Subsequent "reminders" cause a stressful reaction and because the original issue is unsettled our emotions escalate quickly.
The practical application? Let's say you were six years old one Thanksgiving and reaching for a piece of candy when Uncle Ed slapped your hand telling you that "sweets aren't good for kids." You then watched him devour three pieces of your cousin’s pumpkin pie. Twenty years later when Uncle Ed goes for the desert table you may feel tense. Or you have a sister who is passive/aggressive and never confronts anyone about anything. What she does is clear her throat. I am one of the very few who can "hear" the accusation, judgment and disapproval in her throat clearing. When I pointed it out to a date one Christmas, she looked at me as if I were out of my mind and said; "judgmental throat clearing?" But I heard it.
So is that all there is to it? Unresolved issues that stem from wedding receptions when Aunt Betsy drank too much and mooned your Grandma? I think the feelings that only family can evoke in us are rooted a bit deeper. I think there must be someplace inside most of us that resents the family we were dealt. Most of us have spent vacations and holidays throughout our lifetime trapped in small quarters with people we have little to nothing in common with except a bloodline. We didn't choose them, we didn't ask to be grouped with them, we may not even like them. But out of obligation or tradition there we are again year after year feeling stuck and imposed upon, playing another round of Trivial Pursuit and eating Tums wishing we were anyplace else on earth.
I don't know about you but I don't want to feel this way about my family. I have lived long enough to know that there is another time that we see each other and that is at funerals. Maybe it is at then that we can actually appreciate the ties that bind us. Memories flow of both happy and sad times together, sharing an understanding and history that goes all the way back to birth. Who knew that Uncle Ed would put his arm around your shoulders and let you cry like a baby? Maybe it's because he has known you since you were.
They make us crazy. Perhaps we would never have chosen them if we had been given a choice. But it is what it is and at some point you make your peace. Besides, my cousin's pie is so good we all want three pieces.