Monday, March 21, 2016

Must be a Family Thing: Having awareness and compassion in patterns of behavior

There is an added gift of awareness when family visit. Common patterns of behavior become evident, and with it the opportunity to shift or change. I haven’t always considered this awareness a gift. In fact, it used to be triggering and upsetting when I would see these patterns because I was reminded of my own shortcomings. I hadn’t accepted my imperfections so to look at my character defects was to see faults and flaws. Recovery brings acceptance of my present and past, with it compassion for myself about things I didn’t know.

This past week my brother and nephew have been visiting me in my home.  The home I now reside in solely with my two cats. I’ve done quite a bit of work to appreciate my own good company and the freedom that comes with living alone. I welcomed their visit as it has been a great blessing to me to be the recipient of their kindness, consideration, and generosity. I will miss them when they return to their home in the Midwest tomorrow. As guests go, they are truly delightful. And as guests go, that doesn’t mean there aren’t some adjustments.

Several nights this week we have watched a TV program or movie before going to bed. When the program is over, my brother stands up, says good night, and heads to bed – leaving behind his beverage container or glass, and possibly shoes or a dish as well.  I recall that my father and mother had this same behavior, although my mother was less apt to be watching TV so I haven’t associated this with her for the most part. My younger brother also has this same habit. I’m remembering heated discussions with my husband (now ex-husband) about this same habit which was very irritating to him. It just hadn’t been a practice of mine to take my glass to the kitchen and put it in the dishwasher before I went to bed. It was, however, the standard in his family, and I soon learned to make this a practice in my own home (and when I’m a guest at others’).

It occurred to me today that something that has become simple and clear to me as responsible, respectable behavior is likely not clear to my brother.  He is merely behaving in the fashion that was modeled to him and which is just normal behavior. Most certainly I have choices about this; I know I can ask him to put his glass in the dishwasher before going to bed. This lesson isn’t about boundaries. It’s about what has been modeled and what becomes normal.

This awareness about bedtime behavior has prompted my thinking about the patterns of thinking and behaving, too. There are many family patterns that come to mind. It is standard for members of my family to volunteer and to serve others. It is common within my family to want to understand the motives behind things – we call it “getting to the bottom of things”. We are problem-solvers and communicators. There is a long list of attributes. What I can also see are the traits not so favorable. Things like being critical, procrastinating, collecting material excess, people-pleasing, and overeating. There are others. It really doesn’t matter whether it is not cleaning up after myself when I go to bed or care taking others in my co-dependency. Both of these, for instance, were no longer behaviors I wanted to continue.

Recovery has helped me to see that it isn’t so much about assigning good and bad to my thoughts, feelings, and behaviors, but rather it is about seeing the gift in learning why I do certain things and that I have choices as to whether I want to continue doing them or not. Once I have identified those character defects and become willing to have God remove them, I have a loving God to lift those shortcomings as He sees fit including when He sees fit. To help me even further, I have self-compassion while knowing that I may just be doing what was considered “normal” behavior. I don’t have to blame myself, my parents, my family, the system, or anyone or anything else for my behaviors. I believe that is my part in choosing serenity. 

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