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  • SuePattonThoele

Accepting Family Foibles (and Protecting Yourself)



I know from my own life, and as a former therapist, that family foibles and failures can be excruciatingly painful. For many of us, it takes great strength to heal from childhood wounds.

Humor helps.

I asked my friend Anita how her Thanksgiving with family had been. Throwing back her head and laughing, she replied, “My family puts the fun in dysfunctional.” She told a few stories about the holiday, laughing as she spoke. Hearing one experience that would have crushed me, I asked, “How can you laugh about something like that?” She told me she had gone to therapy about her childhood “stuff” and decided during one session that her family was weird, regularly mean, but they were here to stay, so around them she would “be a duck.” Anita explained that being a duck helps protect her from absorbing their meanness as she imagines their put-downs rolling off her back. Grinning, she said, “Just so’s ya know, I have to go outside and quack sometimes to remind myself!” Wisely, Anita shared the duck-defense with her sister, and they slip outside together when needed. It’s good to have a humor-buddy when possible.

I’m reminded of a story I’ve shared before about my experience at the gorilla enclosure in San Diego’s zoo. A large gorilla appeared angry. He paced back and forth, growled at his enclosure mates, stared menacingly at us voyeuristic viewers, and eventually threw feces at us as he howled. We all ducked, but it was a little scary. As we were backing away, I said, “Oh my gosh! That was just like being around Gladys!” (my sister who is no longer alive—not her real name). From then on, to gear myself up for visits that included Gladys, I’d remind myself I was going to the gorilla enclosure and better be prepared to duck. Having a humor connection helped me take the situation—which I had tried to change for decades and failed—more lightly. To keep myself safe, I also erected an energetic feces-free zone around me.

During your day...

  • Acknowledge that healing lingering childhood wounds is not easy but is essential. You have the strength and wisdom to love yourself to happiness.

  • Accept the fact you may not be on the same page as family members, but you are in the same library.

  • Know there’s usually something “fun” to learn from families.

A dysfunctional family is any family

with more than one person in it.

—Mary Karr


Excerpted from The Woman's Book of Strength by Sue Patton Thoele. Available on Mango and Amazon.

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