By: Harmony Linden, L.I.S.W.
There are so many issues that people disagree on, sometimes it’s harder to find common ground than to find differences. In families, this can create conflict. At its most extreme, people can cut off all contact from one another.
Distancing or cutting off is a response to the need for togetherness in a family. Family members feel pulled to think alike and share common goals. This can help people feel connected to one another. When the desire to think alike is very strong and differences are not tolerated, people often respond with an equally strong cut-off.
When family members cut off contact with one another they are at risk for isolation and feelings of rejection. Reconnecting with family members after a cut-off is difficult. The emotions of the original argument might return, regardless of how long the cut-off lasted. Cut-off in family relationships often correlates with depression, anger, and difficulty with friends and other relationships.
In the book, “Growing Yourself Up,” Jenny Brown says that accepting people with different views and staying connected to them is an attribute of maturity (18). She later describes a path toward maturity that includes being in contact with our families without distancing, blaming, or rescuing them (60).
It can be difficult to stay in contact with family members who have very different views. Emotional maturity grows when a person can hear different ways of thinking and express their own ideas, without trying to change the other person.
When learning how to do this, a person might observe themselves to see how long they can listen to someone else’s opinions before they start trying to change them. A person might also see how long they can stay clear about their own thinking when others are trying to convince them to see it differently.
When trying to tolerate differences becomes too difficult or overwhelming, having a neutral third person can help calm tension. This could be a priest, a therapist, or another person outside of the family. Practicing the skills of disagreeing without distancing, blaming, or rescuing enhances emotional growth and maturity.
Harmony Linden is a licensed therapist at the Center for Life Counseling at Catholic Charities. For more information or to schedule an appointment with one of our professional therapists, visit CenterForLifeCounseling.org or call 515-237-5045.