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Family entanglement: Whose issue is it?

As parents, you can think of countless examples where you have tried to “advise” your children by using your previous experiences—a sort of “when I was your age” plus life’s learned lessons. People, particularly those in whom we have a close relationship with, assert varying degrees of protection over one another. Clearly, as parents, the aim is to reduce or eliminate, if possible, any avoidable pain and suffering to your child. But beyond obvious physical safety and overall well-being concerns, when does parental advice become parent-child entanglement?

Emotional ping-pong
In an illustrative concept, we can think of family relationship similar to a ping-pong game—this back and forth reaction to our interactions with one another. Emotional responding is no different, perhaps, with the added nuances such as speed and force of return that add dimension to the game, and interaction, itself. These nuances pave the way towards becoming entangled; when we begin to shift our reactions to overpower the other. In doing so, we attempt to defend our personal perspective which diminishes our ability to separate personal and collective responsibilities. Cultivating awareness to our reactions allows us to be active participants in interactions, rather than getting caught into an emotional snowballing situation.

Look from the outside
Perhaps a determining factor within interactions with family is internally knowing when we have started, or are in, an emotional snowball. Overtime, with practice and attunement, we begin to hone this awareness. In the meantime, this can begin by taking a break from the situation itself—even a physical break. With less environmental input, we can emotionally stabilize, which allows us the possibility to reflect on our reactions and assess “whose issue is this”? We can then re-engage with the other, without continuing the entanglement.

Putting it together
Family life offers a consistent and continual opportunity to learn—about ourselves, our family members, and the evolution of the familial relationship. In begin aware of the emotional game of pig-pong we play daily, gives use the opportunity to reflect on our emotional reactions and how we can integrate the two in a way that supports relational connections without entanglement.