Some of the worst people I know are members of my family.
To be clear, some of the most heinous, nasty, back-stabbing, narcissistic, immoral people I have come across in my short twenty-nine years consider themselves a part of my clan.
Don’t lie to yourselves, either: the same goes for each and every one of us.
Every family has the same story; only with different players and different circumstances. Every family has the drunks and the drug addicts; the drama queens and the gossipers. Every family has those that prefer to look down on others while inviting them to Thanksgiving dinner; all the while only vaguely listening to the problems they lay out on the table for everyone to pick at like yesterday’s yams. Each of us has a member of the family we prefer would never show up; and those with whom we know are sleeping together despite the risk of producing a deformed, incestuous child. We all have the mother who has five kids and no idea who their dads are; we all have the son who stole from us, the father who left us, and the delusions of grandeur that our family is above it all. We all have an unending series of gossip – gossip that none of us would tolerate at work, or in our circle of friends; but of which we deal with and partake in with family over some of the most personal, private, inconsequential, untrue, and mundane things.
A while ago I wrote on my mother and yet, in all truth, she is probably just the victim of a weak will and some universal chromosomal defect that makes people who are closely related act like complete and utter monsters to each other. Some of the most horrendous things that I have witnessed people do to each other (and, in fact, to me) have been by family. This includes gossip. This includes unsolicited comments. This includes actions, inaction, reactions. And what is so unsettling about it is that we all just keep going back for more.
This seems to be a major (and growing) cultural problem in American society – one that even the most anti-cultural, anti-social of people cannot seem to get around. For in our culture, we put up with some of the most disgusting and inhumane behavior on the very premise that it comes from family. In the normal course of our daily lives, we would never put up with such behavior as we do our family – if an employee spoke to us the way family did, they would be fired; if a friend were caught gossiping about us, the friendship would cease to exist; and if the behavior of the non-relatives in our lives was among the unhealthy and abusive nature of psychopaths, drug addicts, sexual deviants, and alcoholics (among other things), we would not even hesitate to remove them from our social strata out of a respect for our own happiness and health.
And yet we tolerate the same behavior from our family – and accept it for the sake of togetherness.
There is a theory in psychology called Enmeshed Family Theory. It says that families who over involve themselves in each other’s lives have many developmental and other dysfunctional problems as a result of the dynamic that permeates American families today. This dynamic – this tolerance of behavior otherwise intolerable – is only exacerbated by the fact that the family is over involved in each other’s lives to such a degree that the most mundane of tasks cannot happen without everyone knowing about it. We like to delude ourselves into believing that this is not our case. Our family is above dysfunction; our family has issues, but nothing that could be considered a problem. The truth, though, is that we are all in enmeshed families; and (as a consequence of this) – that the dysfunction is everybody’s case.