Your family is supposed to be the safest, most loving place in the world – but what happens if your family means sadness, jealousy, frustration, greed, anger, betrayal or any other disappointments? Mostly, immaterial of your age, you turn to friends and before you know it, they become your adopted family.
Those facing daily hostility within the family – because of parents playing favourites with the kids or sibling rivalry or ungrateful children in old age or other reasons – takes a few years, veiled in a charade of fake-smiles, fake-laughter and fake-goodwill. No one honestly says that they can’t stand the others and maintains civility, especially in public. This takes a toll psychologically and they feel sad and terribly lonely.
A family should give you good vibes. As soon as you enter the door, you should feel enveloped in happy vibrations. When a married woman visits her maternal home, she recalls at once the memories of her younger, carefree days, when her family was her shelter and the big bad world didn’t seem like a nasty place. She is delighted to see her parents and siblings, maybe a little older but still just as precious. And as everyone sits around the room, they exchange the latest news, laugh, joke and feel safe and happy. But there are also some unfortunate families where children have no contact with old parents, or where siblings are strangers even after sharing the same womb.
Strange as it may seem, not all families are normal. Many only find the feel-good family vibes in the company of friends or others’ families, where they perhaps grew up in their formative years. Deprived of a happy family of their own, they adopt friends as an immediate safe circle of love or even adopt the friend’s family as their own if they feel valued there and find the love and affection from their friends’ brothers, sisters and parents, basking in a glow of family spirit they crave for, and have never known.
Not surprising at all because family is supposed to be your final refuge, your safe haven, the shelter you turn to when the real world has worn you out. But what if your parents don’t appreciate you and always put you down? What if your siblings treat you with contempt? What if your only brother has changed completely after marriage, and is totally under his wife’s thumb and she dislikes you? Well, then you have to keep your guard up whenever the family meets because everyone will try to look out for your failures and weaknesses and criticise you instead of praising your achievements. It’s as though they are disappointed when you succeed – and happy when you fail! I’d say it’s the complete anti-family environment because you can’t go to such a family when you’re depressed and looking for comfort.
So you go to friends or their families who are loving and supportive of your emotional needs. Is it any wonder that some teenagers today avoid their own families and find refuge with friends with whom they ‘hang out’? Anyone adopting a happy family does so because their own is unsympathetic, unloving, too strict or emotionally abusive, with the result that there’s only sadness at home. All they want is the warmth and love of a family that these self-orphaned people crave for.
We all know how deeply negative households affect us as we grow up. When there’s happiness, we feel happy. When there’s fighting, we feel like running away. When there’s encouragement, we excel. When there’s disagreement and discouragement, we fail. When the moments of happiness and encouragement are lacking, some of us, children, as well as adults, seek happy and adopted families elsewhere, with other people.
“It’s not your fault if your family is not happy, or even totally dysfunctional,” is what I tell people from unhappy families who reach out to me. I tell them it’s not your fault, so don’t be ashamed or feel guilty for not liking your family enough. Yes, family is all-important. But in the long run what is more important is your happiness and you, and therefore an adopted family is better than an unhappy family and if that’s what it takes to feel loved, so be it!
Look at most senior citizens around you today. Either they are exploited by their families or totally ignored. (Mind you, we are talking about only a few unhappy families) Where do these senior citizens go for their happiness? Their happiness comes from friends who love and appreciate them, and not from abusive families where they are under-appreciated or disrespected.
I truly believe that happiness is everyone’s birth right and if it doesn’t come from your own family, it’s alright to look for it elsewhere, because as a child, teenager, middle-aged person or a senior citizen, to be loved is very important and it doesn’t matter where this love comes from!