I recently talked about a particular “family events coping strategy” that I learned thirty years ago and still use because it works for me: When I am part of any group, especially large groups connected with emotionally “high stakes” situations like holidays, I pretend I am an anthropologist. That is, as an anthropologist, I study the origin, development, and behavior of human beings and I examine cultures around the world. During my holiday “expedition,” I discover a whole new “tribe” of people! I’ve never seen a group of people like this before, and they are very interesting indeed. Because I’m an anthropologist, I’m required to observe them from afar. Since I’m interested in how they live and interact with each other, I look at the ways they speak and behave with each other. I observe their verbal exchanges, their ways of interpreting what others are saying, their body language, and their emotional and physical displays, reactions, and responses. How do I do this you ask?
Here’s the secret:
I do not get involved in the dysfunctional behaviors.
As a pretend anthropologist, my job is to study how they live; how they interact, cooperate, and handle conflict, not to engage with them. I don’t get drawn into any dysfunction going on in front of me. I stay emotionally detached from what’s happening by simply observing and making mental notes like, “Wow that was a strange thing to say,” “Hhmm, I wonder why he did THAT?” or “Interesting. I wonder why she responded that way” and so on. Later, I’ll journal about it to gain some understanding, insight, and perspective.
Watch and Learn
In that same spirit of observing but staying uninvolved, a friend recently shared a little game that she and another awakened family member play at their family gatherings. It’s called I SPOT DYSFUNCTION BINGO, and it’s an awesome coping tool.
Before the gathering, the two of them decide what behaviors will be included in their game. They include at least ten things like “Johnny does his disappearing act,” “Mother promotes her victimhood,” “Sister Sally whips up drama,” “Brother Bill gets high,” “Cousin Nicky loses her temper,” “Dad makes someone cry,” and Aunt Mary gets drunk.” They quietly keep tabs on the unfolding events and secretly acknowledge when one of them has noticed five behaviors and gets a BINGO. Do they create actual bingo boards? No. They each have a text list they’ve shared.
What a great way to stay aware, emotionally detached from unhealthy behaviors, and validated by a fellow traveler on their healing journey!
I’m definitely keeping this one in my arsenal of coping strategies!
As always, celebrate your insights about dysfunctional behavior, whether it’s yours or someone else’s, and the clarity your insights bring. Acknowledge what you’ve learned AND HOW YOU CAN APPLY IT in the future. That’s called PROGRESS!
More tools for healing:
Learn about dysfunctional family roles
Learn about codependency
Learn how to protect yourself with boundaries
Learn about the narcissistic abuse cycle
Learn about Narcissism Awareness Grief
Learn how to use positive detachment
Learn why uncommunicated expectations can be harmful
More Resources You May Like:
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About the Author
As a result of growing up in a dysfunctional home, and with the help of professional therapists and continued personal growth, Diane Metcalf developed strong coping skills and healing strategies for herself. She happily shares those with others who want to learn and grow.
Her Lemon Moms series and other books and articles are a combination of her education, knowledge, personal growth, and insight from her childhood experiences and subsequent recovery work.
Diane holds a Master of Science degree in Information Technology and a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology. She’s worked in numerous fields, including domestic violence and abuse, and is an experienced advocate, speaker, and writer about family dysfunction. On The Toolbox, she writes about recovery strategies from hurtful people and painful, dysfunctional, or toxic relationships. She has authored four transformational books about healing and moving forward from narcissistic Victim Syndrome.
Visit her author’s site here: DianeMetcalf.com
Learn about the Lemon Moms series here: Lemon Moms
This website is intended for informational purposes only and is not a substitute for professional therapy.