This was first published on KSL.com
I have a difficult family problem. My wife has a daughter from her first marriage that is toxic, controlling, and alienating. I am trying to be "the wise, mature, strong and loving adult” you talk about in your articles, but it’s really hard. And we coming up on the holidays, Christmas, and other special events and her daughter wants her mother there, but I am not welcome. My wife is even starting to get pulled in that direction and siding with her daughter, which really hurts. How do I handle this? How do I heal our family? How do we stop all the finger pointing and should I let my wife go or insist on being included?
Life is rough, it is no easy, rose garden endeavor and everywhere there are people, there are problems, drama, fighting and defensiveness. This is true because everyone on the planet is dealing with a huge amount of fear, which puts us in a selfish, needy, defensive, and protective state - where we are incapable of loving, wise behavior.
Our fears of failure and loss keep us focused, every day, on getting something (validation, reassurance, attention or a feeling of superiority) to quiet our fears. Until we get this, many of us have an empty bucket and nothing to give.
This sounds dismal, but understanding this truth will help you to see human behavior accurately (as fear-based) and get yourself into a better space where you can rise above it.
Many people, who suffer from deep subconscious fear they aren’t good enough, cast other people around them as the villain. If they can do this and stay focused on your bad, they won’t have to deal with their own bad behavior or feelings of inadequacy. Chances are pretty good this daughter has cast you as the bad guy, to make herself feel better or she is haveing fear of loss (losing her mother’s focus, attention and love). This might drive her to use guilt to manipulate or control her mother into siding with her.
This happens a lot in blended families and can make everyone feel threatened and unsafe. But you can fight the fear in your family dynamics with strength and love. Here are three questions, which might change the way you see this situation and help you to be your best in spite of it:
1)Are you experiencing this situation for a reason? One of my hero’s is Viktor Frankl, who survived the concentration camps during World War II. During the midst of that horrible experience he asked himself this question, “Was it just random bad luck that I ended up here or did this happen for a reason, and there is meaning and purpose in my being here?”
After much thought, he decided there was no way to know for sure which might be truth. This left him with a powerful realization, when there is no way to know ultimate truth “We get to choose our perspective”.
You can choose to see your life as random chaos, and view others as having the power to take from you and even ruin your journey. You can experience pain and grief over this situation, or you can see life as a classroom and the universe as a wise teacher, who is co-creating your journey with you and every choice you make, to deiver the perfect educational experiences for you. This would mean this whole situation is here to bless you.
Frankl said, “Life is never made unbearable by circumstances, but only by lack of meaning and purpose” in how you see them. When you decide to see any situation as here to serve you in some way, you will suffer less and take things less personally. You may even be grateful for it.
You have the opportunity (if you choose it) to see this daughter is your perfect teacher. She is in your life for the same reason everything else is in your life – to grow you, to help you become stronger, wiser or more loving toward yourself and others.
This is the real purpose of everything in your life. When you get this, you will feel better about the situation.
2)How can I be a hero and turn this mess into a human achievement? The amazing Viktor Frankl decided to see his circumstance as having purpose and meaning (to grow him in some way). He decided if he was here for a reason, then he must turn this horrible situation into a human achievement of some kind. He could do this by choosing to stay in trust and love, and help and serve others every day, which was absolutely heroic in those circumstances.
He was dwelling deep in human fear and suffering, which meant there was a great deal of selfishness, anger and hate around him. It would have been easy to embrace negative thoughts and behavior. I am sure it took every ounce of power he had to stay in a place of love, but he proved it can be done.
We can rise with love, amidst hate and conflict. We have the power to behave with grace and strength when things go bad or people attack us. Remember we are eternal beings having a interesting educational experience here, but we cannot really be diminished or destroyed. Ultimately we are safe in God’s hands the entire time, and our infinite, absolute value cannot change. Therefore there is nothing to fear.
When we remember this and choose a fearless mindset, we can become a hero in any situation. We can dig deep for the love and strength (that is our true nature) and love our enemies, give to those that curse us, and even stay peaceful through an attack. We do this not because we are a doormat, but because we know they can’t really hurt us.
“Human potential at its best, is to transform a tragedy into a personal triumph, to turn one's predicament into a human achievement.” - Viktor Frankl
You can do this too. Choose to view this situation as a story. Years from now someone will read this story and come upon this chapter (from today moving forward). What do you want them to read about you and how to handled this from today moving forward? Take the time to put write this story on paper and detail how you (the hero) will rise from here.
You might choose love towards your wife and her daughter no matter how they choose to treat you. You could ask them what would make them happy and if they choose to go alone, let them, without feeling slighted at all. But you must do this as a gift of love, not to claim moral high ground and beat them with your righteousness. You must take a completely generous, non-needy stance, showing them you are fine and will still stand in love towards them, no matter what they choose. This might make them see their unloving behavior and own it (but that cannot be your agenda).
Another possibility is that this lesson for you is about learning how to have mutually validating conversations so you can talk this through with your wife and daughter. There is a great worksheet on our website to help you with this. We also teach a relationship skills class each month, where we can show you how to have loving, mutually validating conversations and good boundaries so you can work through any problem.
3) What is in my control? You cannot control how other people think, feel or behave. You cannot make people like you or care about you. The only thing in your control is what you think, feel and do. You asked me, “How do I heal our family?” - the truth is you can’t, but you can heal yourself.
Viktor Frankl said, “Forces beyond your control can take away everything you possess except one thing, your freedom to choose how you will respond to the situation.”
Make this your focus every day. Heal yourself by turning anger over to God and choosing peace. Make some plans with your friends or family and show you wife and daughter what love really is. Love never forces or demands, or defends or attacks. It just says “I want you to be happy and I know I’m whole, loved and right on track in my classroom journey no matter what you choose.”
Choose to see your wife and her daughter as innocent, struggling, scared, students, doing the best they can with what they know (they may need more education, which you can trust the universe to supply right on time.)
Be the hero in this story by choosing an accurate perspective (that you have nothing to fear), strong thinking (based in principles of truth), and loving behavior (that is unselfish and giving). These are the only things in your control and you will at least be proud of yourself and like who you are.
You can do this.
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Kimberly Giles is the president and founder of Claritypoint Life Coaching and 12 SHAPES INC. She is an author and professional speaker. She was named one of the top 20 advice gurus in the country by Good Morning America in 2010. She appears regularly on local and national TV and Radio.