Families in the times we live in are no longer the close units they used to be. Bickering and arguing are what is now commonplace where love used to be.
If your family is already caught up in this vicious cycle, how can you get out of it?
What I refer to as “The Circle” is basically the cycle of actions and reactions within a family that shapes how family members view each other and react to each other.
Human interaction within a family (and in general) is so complex that when a disagreement breaks out it may not be as easy to determine the cause and who is the “guilty party” as one might think.
In the example of a father berating his children for not cleaning the house, it might seem simple to peg the children as the guilty ones. They should have cleaned the house and not trashed it afterwards.
But is that all there is to it? How about the father? You probably didn’t know that on top of complaining about the messy house, he never once has a word of commendation to say when the house is cleaned. This in turn generates spite in the children which causes them to stop cleaning figuring “what’s the point. We aren’t going to get any credit for cleaning it anyway.”
Who is to say where along the many years this started? Over time it becomes impossible to tell who started what part of this cycle. This person says one thing which causes the next person to act this way which in turn causes a whole new set of events and on and on it goes.
This of course leads to. . .
The Pointing Game
Once “The Circle” has begun no one is willing to accept their part in it’s creation. Instead they find it easier to point to someone else as the cause of why they respond the way they do. In turn that person responds by pointing back the the original person or perhaps to someone else to explain their part in it.
Each person, unable to accept their part in the cycle, allows pride to fuel the turning of the circle, somehow thinking that by justifying their position they become more “right” because they didn’t yield.
When you are standing there justifying your view and everyone around you knows you are wrong, does it make them feel more respect for you? Or does it cause them to lose respect for you? I’ll let you decide that.
To stop the circle from spinning the entire family has to stop playing the pointing game.
Each person must accept that they have personally done something to keep the circle going and not try to shift that blame to someone else.
If everyone in the family can accept their part, then you have no need to shift the blame because they themselves will be at that moment admitting that they too are a part of the problem.
But more is involved then simply admitting your part in the circle. You have to then address what you are going to do to eliminate your share in the circle and then actually do it.
This may or may not seem obvious but I believe that it is also important that everyones efforts to change must be visible to the rest of the family because if they don’t see the effort it could start a chain reaction that simply causes everyone to stop their attempts because they don’t see you doing it either.
Hold The Low Ground
That statement seems to run contrary to known logic. But in this case your goal should be to not cause anyone to become defensive.
The moment defensiveness rears it’s head it’s almost always going to head right back into the circle that you are trying to stop.
People are likely to become defensive if they feel that they are being singled out or that they are being backed into a corner. This can be overcome by “holding the low ground” or putting yourself on the “lower step” so to speak.
When addressing a problem don’t use words like “you.” Instead substitute for the word “we.”
“We have to work on keeping the house cleaner.”
By saying “We” you have put yourself on the same playing field as the people you are talking to instead of putting yourself above which could cause them to start defending themselves.
Another idea would be that perhaps before addressing a problem you could admit your part in the problem before anyone else.
“I know that I have contributed more then my share to messing up the house. We have to work on keeping the house cleaner.”
In some cases you may not have actually had a part in whatever it was you are talking about, but by not putting yourself up on the “Moral high ground” you have avoided putting them on the defensive.
Yes, I know. All of this can be easier said then done. But if no one starts, it’s never going to happen. Someone has to put them selves on the low ground and start the process.
But, once the process is started how do you maintain it?
That phrase is more true then you can ever imagine. Once the process has started find reason to commend your family for the good things they do.
“This place looks great! I appreciate the hard work you put into cleaning today guys.”
Positive commendation is a far more effective tool then negative condemnation because it puts the person on the high ground while the condemnation puts them on the low, defensive ground.
Even if you are justified in being angry. Does it do you any good to vent that anger and cause a fight which puts every one on the defensive and starts the pointing game?
Trust me, I also know how hard it can be to say words of commendation and thanks after you have made it a habit not to say them. It feels akward and uncomfortable.
But just like with your first girlfriend when she started saying “I love you” in front of your friends, you have to start saying them for them to become natural to us.
There’s Always One
Sometimes you have a family member that is just not willing to cooperate no matter how you try to work it.
You might after a while be tempted to give up or at least not include that person in the commendation first rule. But ask yourself, just like venting justified anger, does that help your ultimate goal?
Even if that person never comes around, does a wheel spin faster when everyone is spinning it or with only one person?
If even some of the family can agree to do their part in making the family better and not shifting the blame it’s still going to be better then the entire household being a giant free for all.
And you never know, in time stragglers may be won out.
I am certainly not perfect nor am I always right, but despite that fact I hope that this article helps you and your family get some insight into how to start the process of stopping “The Circle”.