Who has a fight-free family? Whenever I ask this question of my audience everybody looks around the room :all hoping that someone else will admit that most mornings, by the end of breakfast time, their family has fought at least one major battle already. There's big smiles of relief when I tell them the truth about families – all families fight!
In my book, Fight-Free Families I list fifteen reasons for fights that commonly occur in the family setting. For instance, family members fight to assert their rights , for attention, to defend themselves or their property, to protect their self-esteem, for status or for power.
Family fights give us experiences which we can take out into the real world. We learn that sometimes fighting for the sake of the principle is important, and sometimes we are wasting our time.
The family forum is where people learn that fighting can be physical, emotional, and political and that they can result in hurts for everyone –hurt bodies, hurt feelings and lack of trust.
In most functional (mostly) families, the hurts are resolved. Parents set values about cooperation and forgiveness and the importance of "blood" in "being there" for each other. Competitive siblings mature and take on their individual identities and let go of their need to compete.
Sometimes, however, in the dysfunctional family context, hurts are toxic and are never resolved.
It all starts with the parents, who have the responsibility of teaching the difference between being "right" and being "happy". Children need to learn that it is impossible for the family puppy to "be cut in half" for it to be shared. They have to take turns. Children have to learn that life is not fair. Life is not about equal shares –it's about a dance of justice and reality. For instance, older children may perceive that have very resticted privileges or more responsibility compared with the freedom the younger child may get. However older children often receive more status and property than younger children.
Parents who take on a "Joan of Arc" righteousness to insist on their principles, risk the backlash of family feuds where one party sets up against the other to prove the other right or wrong.
Parents also have to teach the importance of compassion and forgiveness. This is very important for the child who may have become the ‘irresponsible one" of the family (and most families have one of these, whose very birth order may have greatly contributed to their position as scapegoat). Just think of the Prodigal Son! Certainly, the responsible child should not be disadvantaged, neither should the irresponsible child be rescued from the consequences of their behaviour. However there is always a way to preserve people boundaries and preserve blood ties if there is a good intention.
The parents need to lead the family towards reconciliation and the children need to be willing to be lead. If there is "too much water under the bridge" – too much proving right and wrong for too long – the very reality of the initial reason for the fight is probably forgotten anyway. The family loses the very structure of its substance. And then no-one wins.
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Dr Janet Hall
Dr. Janet Hall is a psychologist, hypnotherapist, sex therapist, author, professional speaker, trainer, and media consultant. Dr Jan has authored eight books on family and relationship issues and recorded 42 CDs/MP3s, many use hypnosis. She founded the Richmond Hill Psychology Clinic - www.drjanethall.com.au
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