NYC Psychotherapist Blog

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Wednesday, March 20, 2013

A Happy Family Doesn't Have to Be a Perfect Family

In my article yesterday, Happy Families: A Strong Family Narrative Can Build Resilience, I wrote about family narratives, based on an article by Bruce Feiler, and how these narratives can help build resilience and cohesiveness.  Today, I'm addressing the misperception that a "happy family" is problem free.

A Happy Family Doesn't Have to Be a Perfect Family

There's No Such Thing as a "Perfect Family"
Most people would agree that there's no such thing as a "perfect family" that is without its ups and downs and moments of crises.  But, as I mentioned yesterday, the idea that most families are dysfunctional is so prevalent in our culture that many people think that in order for a family to be considered happy and stable, there shouldn't be any problems.

A Happy Family Doesn't Have to Be a Perfect Family

That's like saying that in order for people to see themselves as having a happy life, they shouldn't have any sadness or any difficult times.  Once again, when we look at it this way, we can see the fallacy in this reasoning because we know it's impossible to live a long, full life without there being hard times.

Happy Families Often Share a Sense of Meaningfulness 
Part of the problem is with the word happiness.  What does it mean to be happy?  I believe, and I think many people might agree, that having a happy life doesn't mean being happy all of the time.   For me, in a nutshell, it means having a life that is meaningful, which includes having people that you care about and who care about you.

Similarly, there will be sadness, loss and crises in most families sooner or later.  There will also be struggles.   This is true for every family.  What matters is how a family responds to these losses, crises and struggles and how well they bounce back from these events.  An attitude of "we're in this together and together we'll get through it" helps families to weather the inevitable difficult times.

A Sense of Family History:  Standing on the Shoulders of Previous Generations
It's also helpful when a family has a sense of history that the current family members and previous generations have overcome difficult times together and have been resilient enough to bounce back.

It's like saying, "We stand on the shoulders of previous generations who made it through difficult times and  remained united."

In most families that consider themselves to be happy families, there are often shared values and traditions.  Of course, there isn't an absolute.  There are happy families where family members respect each other's right to have differing opinions.

I believe the most important aspect of a happy family is a loving, nurturing environment.  Once again, this doesn't mean perfection.  There can be times of discord and conflict.  But, usually, in families that consider themselves to be happy, even when there's conflict, there's a foundation of love and trust.

If there are periods of discord in the family, a happy family is more likely to allow for there to be a way to make amends rather than holding grudges.

When I see clients who describe themselves as coming from happy families, they often have a sense that whatever they're going through, ultimately, they will be all right.  They have a sense that, somehow, they'll get through their problems, even if they currently need the help of a therapist and supportive family and friends.  They usually have much more of a sense of hope about life than people who don't come from happy, stable families.

Having grown up in a family where there was a foundation of love and trust, often gives these individuals a sense that they are rooted in something much larger than themselves.

It's often a matter of perspective.  I once met a man at a dinner party who told me he came from a happy family and he considered himself to have had a great childhood.

Then, he proceeded to describe a childhood filled with many personal and family struggles.  It was very far from a carefree, easy childhood.  But he told me that he knew he was loved by his parents, siblings, and grandparents.  He also knew he came from a long line of survivors and strivers.

So, as far as he was concerned, he came from a happy family with meaningful family relationships, and he considered himself to be fortunate.

So, my point in yesterday's and today's blog posts is that, far from all families being dysfunctional, as I often hear people say, there are happy families, and we can learn a lot from these families about what makes for a happy, meaningful family life.

About Me
I am a licensed NYC psychotherapist, hypnotherapist, EMDR and Somatic Experiencing therapist.
I work with individual adults and couples.

To find out more about me, visit my website:  Josephine Ferraro, LCSW - NYC Psychotherapist

To set up a consultation, call me at (917) 742-2624 during business hours or email me.