No matter how perfect, our families cause us strife at some time in our lives.  From the preteens onward we love them and sometimes want to strangle them, need them and yet want to get as far away from them as possible.  From there we start making choices for ourselves as to who we are and how we want to relate to them and to ourselves and to the world.  This individuation is rarely something that happens overnight.  Running away to join the circus or deciding to stay close and settle down next door aren’t decisions that hit us like lightning bolts, they are the culmination of events and choices and experiences which help form us into a being who decides.

For many, one of the major decisions is focusing on myself and my own needs or everyone else’s.  To put it another way, do I do what I should, what’s expected of me and what’s right for the family and set aside anything that I want? These aren’t simple questions, they aren’t easy decisions, and they are rarely so black and white.  Family relationships are fraught with history and culture and tradition as well as personalities.  They reach past our barriers and well-constructed boundaries to touch the vulnerable rawness of our insecurities and doubts.  They support us in our becoming, goad us into striving, push us to our breaking point, fill us more fully with love and joy and heartbreak than we ever thought possible.

And at some point they bring us to the choice, do I fulfill all the needs of everyone else, keeping the center of this sphere empty as I put everything I have each day out into the world or do I fill up the center of this sphere, do I put my attention and my energy and my passion into who I am and what I need and want?  And if I do make that change, what happens then?  The fear is, usually, that everything falls apart.  That the family walks away, that it closes ranks, that we are ostracized or hunted down, hounded for bad behavior, excoriated for being something that is bad, called mad and unbalanced and in crisis.  And some variations of that are bound to occur.  People resist change and the more connected to someone the less they want any change at all.  The closer someone is to us the more we need them to be dependable, predictable and steady in their identity and behaviors (whether that’s being crazily creative, blandly analytical, or powerful political) because if they aren’t then we are vulnerable.

But making the change from outward focused to inward does an amazing thing.  When the dust settles, the family hasn’t actually shattered and the outrage fades.  The new boundaries become the new normal and all that energy spent on helping others now helps you in such abundance that you can help others without being depleted.  So you get both/and.  Which brings on the next amazing thing which is, usually, the family actually likes you better than they did before.  They get to meet the real you, possibly for the first time, and interact with you in ways they didn’t believe possible.  You are a gift that keeps on giving to yourself and the world around you.