Trust and belongingness in families
'You can choose your friends, you don't get to choose your family - you just learn to cope and deal with them'. When 19 year old Abhay (name and age changed to maintain confidentiality) says this with a tone of resignation, I sensed the underlying potency of this statement. Abhay, while narrating about his experience of family and kinship raises the issue of boundaries and trust.
"In the past, if I have shared my irritation, anger or judgements about a close relative with a cousin or sibling and the person has often betrayed my trust and shared it with that person or another relative in the family, and this has created problems. When I asked why they would do that, they said that they felt that withholding my 'bitching' and not sharing it with that person about whom I had spoken, made them feel that they were betraying them. For me, relationships are exclusive, what I would share with anyone is meant to be treated with confidentiality between the two of us. But in a large family, it is not that simple', he says. "Relationships are intertwined. So, my relationship with this any sibling, cousin, uncle or aunt can never be exclusive of our relationship dynamics with others. I have learnt that people's loyalty to a relationship or a person always competes with other relationships. For example: my cousin and I may be very close and love each other a lot, but his loyalty towards his sibling would always be more than his loyalty to our relationship. This loyalty may not be because they are emotionally closer, but because he believes that this is a hierarchy of relationships he must maintain."
"I cannot subscribe to notions of oneness of a family, if it does not have space for differences. That I cannot have views and values of my own, which could be different from others in the family, and if I am in the 'minority', I find assertion of my individuality often gets perceived as betrayal by my family, a betrayal to the 'family values'."
What Abhay speaks about are inherent growing up experiences of all children and adolescents, one of trying to find a balance between feelings of oneness with one's family and relatives, and one's individuality and uniqueness. Tradition suggests that family values should supercede than one's individuality. Individuality would often be labelled as being selfish, self centred, narcissistic, etc. Today's societies across the world have a greater recognition and valuing of individuality, uniqueness (where one's worth is often defined by their specialness, uniqueness, and what sets that person apart from the others), social media encourages them to state their opinions, peers expect them to define their uniqueness be it in terms of their choices of breakfast cereals, their style of clothing, their preference of music or their image of themselves.
Conflicts, doubts and dilemmas, anger and sadness, arising from the tensions between these pulls between one's relationship with one's family and one's individual needs, is a great resource for psychological growth for a person. Working with these experiences, the emotions and thoughts, helps in personality growth and psychological development for people. Avoiding these questions and experiences, either by denying and suppressing one's need for individuality, or by denying one's need for family and community, leads to fragile egos (sense of self) which - then creates adults with low tolerance levels, inability to deal with complexities, inability to nurture and build meaningful relationships and eventually leads to societies where people feel psychologically and emotionally alienated and isolated. A great way to help young people's emotional and psychological growth is to help them work through their experiences and help them to understand what they could be experiencing as a phenomenon, rather than leave it to only interpersonal issues of trust and betrayal, or unwanted tensions with one's family.