There is a universally accepted belief that family is the most important thing in our life, which is partly true. I say ‘partly’ because it is not always the only important thing in one’s life. With this belief of supreme importance to family, we tend to attach a list of obligations, rules and expectations. The list of expectations from family is much longer than the list of expectations we normally have from anyone else, even our best friends. It is when these become too rigid that we have a problem. That was one of the major causes behind my stress and resultant fragile mental makeup. And that was something I ‘unlearned’ with the help of my therapist over a course of months.
I remember getting highly annoyed during the first two or three therapy sessions of mine – mainly because I kept feeling like a victim and my therapist would listen in silence with a smile on her face. What annoyed me was how she never supported my statements or told me “That’s so sad”. I was demanding empathy and I felt that I wasn’t getting any. With every passing day though, that feeling of victimhood came down. In a way, days of venting out all the anger inside me helped. But what helped more was the gradual understanding that I am responsible for my happiness and sadness – no one else.
That understanding came with some lessons – the most important one being expectations from others based on their roles in my life are not always healthy. When I kept crying about how my parents were never ready to acknowledge the horrors of my childhood, my therapist would ask me in her signature calm tone, “Why do you need them to acknowledge it?” And my answer would be “Because they are my parents. They are supposed to understand this. Any parent is supposed to be affected by something this huge.” When I went on crying about how I kept relying on my brother for emotional support and getting let down every time, she would ask me calmly, “If you knew you were getting let down every time, why did you keep relying on him again and again?” And my answer would be “Because he is my brother and he is supposed to give me emotional support. I have always tried to do that. Why can’t he?” When I kept fuming about being treated as the punch bag in my family every time there was an issue and being schooled by everyone on how it was my fault and how I should be responsible for ‘fixing’ things, she would smile and ask me, “Why do you have to ‘fix’ things and take them too seriously if that is not making you happy?”
The same question over and over again in different ways drove me mad until I understood what she was trying to tell me – “Why don’t you focus on yourself and do things that make you happy without depending on anyone else for that?” Such a simple question with a very complex answer until then, because how much ever I thought of my happiness, it was entwined with everyone else’s and the obligation that came with keeping the family happy took precedence. I was keeping tabs on what all I did for everyone and what all I wasn’t getting back. It seemed so unfair to me. When I think of it now, it didn’t make me happy in any way. As a result, I couldn’t make anyone else happy either, which wasn’t a task I should have taken upon myself in the first place despite what my parents or anyone in my family tried to make me believe. My priority should always have been keeping myself happy. That is the only way anyone can really be happy and keep the space around her happy too. That transition in me is very visible if you compare this blog to an earlier blog of mine about how we would do anything to hold on to our family. Not that we shouldn’t hold on to them. But then it shouldn’t be by desperately doing just about anything, especially things that make our life miserable.
Once I started imbibing that realization, my troubles started vanishing one by one. I finally found closure to the demons of my past. I finally realized that every family need not have the same kind or degree of happiness. Sometimes when you feel that too much closeness can adversely affect your relationship with anyone, even if it is your own ‘blood’, as they call it, you need to think of workable relationships. It has worked wonders for me. I don’t call anyone only because I have to anymore. It is more important to have a cordial and pleasant conversation when you meet them.
That also comes with certain unsaid boundaries. I no longer say anything that comes to my mind to anyone, other than Hari. I also make sure that no one, even my own family, crosses the line by talking down to me or having conversations that are bound to make things awkward. It’s not like I have given an instruction manual to them about how to talk to me. The moment you understand the importance of boundaries even among your own and unload the burden of unnecessary expectations – on yourself and others – a code comes in automatically. If that can keep the relations going, then that is good as long as you don’t compare how things are in your family with another. What works for you doesn’t work for someone else. It’s as simple as that. I have also learnt how to ignore things which are not important or warrant a response. Instead of giving an emotional response to everything, I now understand the power of silence.
It also takes out the wrong belief that ‘blood is always thicker than water’. We tend to downplay the importance of others in our life with this age-old saying. You will understand what I am saying when you go to weddings and funerals. Friends who have always been with you through thick and thin are sometimes pushed down the order and reduced to mere spectators, while people who have never been there for you take the center stage only because they are related by ‘blood’. I have always heard people talk about how family is all you have to turn to when you have a problem, no matter how many friends you have. While I don’t mean to undermine the importance of family, I have personally felt differently about this. I have received tremendous support and love from some of my closest friends at the times I needed support the most. They were also the ones who held my hand and pulled me up every time I thought I wouldn’t get up again. I will never say they come second to my family. In fact, if I were to list the most important people in my life, some of them would top the list after Hari, even above my immediate family. That is only because in the real sense of family, they have been there more.
Even now I get subtle messages on the importance of worshipping family, each and every one of them. But when some who qualify to be ‘immediate family’ haven’t bothered to even video call my daughter once in her two years of existence or seen her grow, I have friends who make it a point to call her up every now and then so that she doesn’t forget them. I have no complaints against the others. But guess who I choose to hold closer. After all, friends are the family you choose. And for me, family is not always ‘blood’.