Family Roles – What To Do When Only You See

Relationship / communication / interaction problems are a lot like fires in buildings, once you notice one, you have an obligation to address it. If you don’t, the problem becomes YOU and you now wear the eggs on your face for whatever outcome your inaction allowed. This is a truth if you want to live a life in service to yourself. Very little good ever comes from ignoring a problem once you see it. Unlike a fire however, that everyone can see and agree needs to be addressed, many problems in the realm of relationship, communication and interaction are not so clear. Often times, one person seeing the problem is a lot easier than getting two people to agree that there IS a problem.

This is particularly important in areas that require a shared level of understanding of the world. For example, controlling people and toxic relationships. There are people who tend to evoke negative emotional responses in many other people, yet have close friends who do not find them to be toxic in any way simply because they identify the behaviors in the other person which cause reaction and they just ignore the tone of those actions / statements and deal with only the facts. The knowledge that their friend is prone to engaging in toxic behaviors is enough for them to NOT engage in these behaviors. In essence, they see what others don’t and they change their behavior accordingly to break free from something that isn’t pleasant for them and which doesn’t seem like a choice to the rest of us.

Family dynamics can be drastically impacted by one members transcending to a high level of awareness, in both positive and negative ways. In most instances it tends to the eldest child who first grasps and holds onto a clearer version of reality, causing a shift in the roles each member plays in the family unit. Their motivation for the embracing and normalizing an updated reality can come from many places but most tend to find that they want to change simply because the role they are playing does not feel right, creates anxiety or is simply not working for them. As the eldest child, particularly in larger families, some of the child raising responsibilities can be transferred onto them during the formative socialization years when they are learning how to behave and interact with the world. While this makes operational sense from a managing a household point of view – spreading the child raising and housework out reduces the workload for the primary care givers – it doesn’t do much to allow of self determination for the eldest child. In fact, they find themselves in a role that was given to them before they realized they were in a position to choose the role they play.

Awareness of that kind of dissonance will go a long way in motivating the oldest sibling to seek change. And when they find it, there can be a dramatic role change for all of the members of the family as the eldest vacates the position of primary care giver; a shift that will likely be experienced as rejection and a lack of gratitude by the parents and as detachment or withdrawal by the other siblings. Neither are accurate interpretations of what is happening but both are understandable given that everyone else in the family has remained the same while the eldest child has changed their view and behavior. The parents may fear that they have “lost” the child because they have made the decision to reject the role that wasn’t working from them and move their life towards something that more closely resembles what their purpose actually is. The reality is that the child has been found and has broken free from the life that was imposed upon them. It’s a tough pill to swallow for parents because they have likely not questioned many of their child rearing decisions if they experience the shift as something other than the expression of the eldest child’s essence.

With the rest of the siblings, two main things can happen: usually, the roles are sent down one child so that the second oldest begins to play the role vacated by the eldest. This is the simplest and it requires the least adjustment from the remaining members of the family. The eldest child is released from the burden of being something they aren’t and moves forward towards a life that they choose. The other thing that can happen is that as the roles are shifting, some or all of the other children begin to feel the shift and begin to resist the change. They may notice a complete change in the eldest, which is new information, and they may begin to act on the new information to become more self aware eventually breaking free of their previously unconscious role.

Now, what is the responsibility of the eldest child in this situation? That’s a tough one. In some way, they have an obligation to let people know when they are being unconsciously manipulated by others. But the people doing the manipulation are not aware that they are doing it or that there could even be something wrong with their actions. In fact, as is the case with most forms of control within a relationship, they believe it is the proper thing to do. It is normal as it has been going on for decades. In most cases it probably makes sense to say nothing and wait until someone asks about it. There’s a very good chance they won’t see what you see and that you don’t want to be the person to open that door without them asking for it. Even then, it’s a rough road because you don’t know the consequences of opening someones eyes to unconscious behavior.

A lot of the time it will just be easier to continue some of the behaviors, shedding responsibilities slowly while allowing the family to adjust to the changing demands of their newly acquired role. This will be least disruptive to the entire family unit and it will afford one the opportunity to practice not being affected by being controlled; arguably one of the more challenging things a human being can manage. But you’ll be doing it alone because you are the only one who sees it.