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My people

The truth is I'm not all that close with most of my family anymore. Over the years, we've grown in very different directions and, although I still love them, I no longer think we have much in common, or that spending time with them is particularly good for me.

The trouble is they don't bring out the best in me, which isn't intentional on their part. It's just that I can't be fully myself when I'm with them, mostly because I know so much of what I think and say makes them uncomfortable. 

For a long time, I tried to bridge the divide by biting my tongue in some circumstances, and forcing discussion in others, but nothing seemed to work. I'm just too different from them to fit easily into their tribe, and my efforts to do so only made everyone unhappy. 

Once I accepted that, things got easier - particularly, when I set some ground rules for myself. I still do things with and for family - but only when I really want to. I don't do them out of a sense of guilt or obligation. And I refuse to apologize for who I am, or bite my tongue when I feel a moral or ethical obligation to speak up.

The other thing that's helped me deal with feeling like an outsider in my own family is finding "my people" - friends and colleagues with whom I share values, perspectives and experiences, who value me because of who I am and not in spite of it, and who help me to be the best version of myself - even when we disagree. 

The tricky bit was figuring out who my people were. For a long time, many of my friendships were as unhealthy as my family relationships. Once I began recognizing that pattern, however, it got easier to let toxic relationships go so that I could nurture healthier ones. 

Of course, all relationships wax and wane to some extent, which is entirely normal. We can't always be the best versions of ourselves, and good friends can and should help one another through the rough patches. But if - over a period of months or years - a friendship's impacts are more negative than positive and there's no indication things will change, I've found it's often best to move on to make space for others.

Comments

  1. So many people get trapped into toxic relationships because "they're family" and they feel they have to "love" them. I'm glad you've found a way to deal with it on your terms. Relationships are trickier now, I think. It used to be you were friends with the people you lived near. If someone moved away, you lost touch unless both of you were good letter writers. Now, holy doodle, Facetime or Skype is essentially free because wifi is almost everywhere. There is no end of ways of staying in touch via words and photos on screen. One can become friends with people that live at the other end of the country or around the world, and go years without meeting. You can find your tribe by making only a small effort, and the rewards can be immense. But it does take a bit of doing to manage the relationships that society expects you to maintain even though you might not want to. My elderly granny that passed away a little while ago was a very difficult relationship because of her adder's tongue. Most of her descendants avoided her because of that.

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