Navigating Special Family Dynamics

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When you have a family member who is ill, you try to help them. You have to accept the reality of their illness, even though sometimes, they won’t. If it is your child, you must get over the self-blame.

I’ve read many books on mental illness, alcoholism, and recently, the book I’m Not Sick, I Don’t Need Help, by Dr. Xavier Amadore. Over the last 4 to 5 years, I’ve attended meetings through NAMI, the National Alliance on Mental Illness, to learn what my loved one is dealing with and how to face it. Over the course of a week, I tried to record some of the most important things I’ve learned in order to remind myself how to deal with the ups and downs of this life.

The ABC’s of Navigating Mental Illness in the Family

a- Acceptance. It is what it is. Maybe it is a tragedy and so unfair, but it is the reality, and now what matters is how you all deal with it.

b-Boundaries. You have a right to them. I can only be healthy when I set them and require others to respect them.

c-Care, for your loved one and the others in your family.

d-Detach from the drama. Sometimes it’s not easy. Other family members may react to the ill loved one in anger or catastrophize the situation. Try to handle it calmly to be supportive, but remove yourself when it’s too much.

e-Express your true feelings to a therapist or friend

f-Forgive. Your loved one may hurt you emotionally, and may not even remember doing so. It’s hard to forget, and I don’t since I learn from each event, but forgiving is what you do for someone you love.

g-Gently voice your concerns. Hollering never got me anywhere with a sick person.

h-Hug freely, if it is accepted.

i-Instill confidence in them. Show them you notice or remember their good qualities.

j-Judge not. It’s even Biblical. I personally don’t like people judging me, so I’m working on not judging the ones I love.

k-Keep anger at bay–do not aim it at a loved one who is ill.

l-Listen openly. There are many times they may not even speak to you. Emrace the times when they do.

m-Model calm reactions

n-Never Stop Believing that it could get better. It has gotten better many times, and I try to forget that it could go downhill before getting better again.

0-Offer a listening ear but do not offer advice. Don’t speak to your loved one like an expert.

p-Practice Self-Care (Part of NAMI’s protocols and many other support groups)

Q- Quit blaming yourself. I think this could mess up a person’s personal balance of boundaries and caring for the individual who is ill. You’ll be more respected if you have boundaries, in my humble opinion.

R-Reject Stigma. I got this one from NAMI’s best practices, and it comes down to dealing with our own shame over our loved one’s illness. Do not allow others to belittle or mock their struggle. Accepting the stigma sort of feeds our own shame. I second-thought my decision to share this post, because I’m aware of the stigma. Yet, I know this post may encourage another who is dealing with a similar situation.

S-Show your love. There are ways to do this confidently and reassuringly without fawning over them and while maintaining boundaries. I constantly remind myself of this. Examples: “Next time you come over, please check the time. Midnight is too late.”

t-Try to empathize. It’s hard, but I think it really helps.

U-Understand, it’s the illness, not them

V-Validate their struggle. They are fighting a serious battle daily. No wonder she/he is acting like a jerk or waking up in a bad mood. They are struggling. Validate their struggle and acknowledge their bravery.

W-Work together as a team. This is still a goal for me, but my other family members and I are getting better.

X- eXhibit bravery. Soon, you may believe it. I constantly tell myself, ‘be brave,’ and it helps me.

Y-You are not alone! Seek help.

Z-Zone: Find a safe zone where you can express the truth of what’s going on, a friend, clergy, counselor, etc. It’s also helpful to clue you work supervisor in on the general situation as it could affect your attendance in the future.

*I’m sure some of these repeat themselves, but I have my favorites, and I have the ones I must remind myself of constantly. This is why I put it into a format, and the ABCs are, of course, quite simple. Keep it simple would be a good one as well, but it never was simple; maybe we can try to make it simplified, though.

You can find information about NAMI at http://www.nami.org.

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