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Transcending Family “Rules”

An old family “rule”: you have to come to the cabin this summer.

Transcending Family "Rules"

My sister texted me recently and invited me to get together with her. We live 5000 miles apart and she was willing to meet me halfway. She even gave two suggestions of how it could work. 

Needless to say, I was touched. I’ve always been close to her, though in recent years it’s been harder to keep up. But I also know these days that I’m just not interested in travel. COVID for me was a welcome break from a life of travel and I’m not interested yet in starting up again.

I took a little while to respond but eventually, I shared this with her and suggested we catch up by phone or Zoom at scheduled times instead. I felt a little guilty because I wasn’t doing much giving here. She reached out to me. I’d like to be closer. Yet, I didn’t want to travel. I noticed myself thinking there was something wrong with me.

I Broke A Family "Rule"

I realized at that point that I had broken a kind of family “rule” (at least in my mind). It was a rule that I learned from my mom: you don’t say no to someone who is asking you to do something. In fact, it’s selfish to refuse. That’s exactly how I was judging myself in this situation.

I suddenly started seeing myself as ungrateful, selfish—a black sheep in the family. And all of my training since I was young started to kick in: “Come on, it’s not that hard. Make an effort.” 

And I started seeing images of when my mom would book plane tickets for me to come home without asking if I wanted to come. Or if she did ask, she would not take no for an answer. From this, I learned that “no” was not a valid answer. I HAD to go whether I liked it or not. And I better find a way to like it too because she was doing me a favor.

I Spent Many Years This Way

At first, I resisted. But eventually, I surrendered. And I did enjoy myself. And, as it turns out, it was good that I traveled so much to Mom because she died kind of young. I have a lot of memories because of her insistence. 

But COVID reminded me that I don’t actually want to travel that much. I like to travel, but I also like staying home. And I don’t miss the expense, loss of momentum at work, and fatigue that often comes with travel. So somehow, I’m more in touch with my unpopular truth these days.

So much so, that I was willing to speak honestly about it to my sister, who was respectful but disappointed. Of course, my sister is not quite the same as my mom. I might still cave in if my mom was around to insist but nevertheless, I see it as progress. 

"No" Is Hard For Me

The reason I have trouble saying “no” is that I was actively dissuaded from sticking to my guns as a young person. I learned that fulfilling other people’s wishes was much more important than fulfilling my own. 

But that has been turning around for a long time now. Doing The Work of Byron Katie (4 questions and turnarounds) has been a slow wake-up call for me. I now ask myself with much more frequency, “What do I think? What do I want to do?” and I’m willing to take the fallout that comes from not doing what others want.

I still chuckle when I think of those who ask me if The Work will turn you into a doormat. For me, I was a doormat and it has shown me how to stand up for myself.

But There's Still A Little Piece Left

That feeling of guilt is still there a bit. There’s a little feeling of shame and self-blame. I could feel it in this situation and it shows me that I’m still believing some of the old story, the old family “rules.”

The story goes like this:

It’s selfish to say no.
You have to have a good reason to say no.
You will be rejected if you say no.
You should make an effort to turn your “no” into a “yes.”

These are some underlying beliefs I could now questions to clean up the story even more. Life will keep testing me until I am able to stand up for myself without any guilt at all. I see the progress I’ve made and I see what more can be done.

What Are Your Family "Rules"?

How about you? What are the rules you are conforming to? Do they work for you? (If yes, then no problem. If no, what are you afraid of?) Notice your stressful thoughts and beliefs. Write them down and go through the four questions and turnarounds in search of new perspectives.

For me, this is an exciting path of self-discovery. Join me and let’s walk this path together.

"The rules of each relationship dictate all the things you have to do or not do to avoid resentment. These rules aren't written down or even spoken. You find out what they are by breaking them."