I am good, and you are bad

What started out as an argument between brother and sister has turned into a family feud. I can understand the dynamics of how it got blown way out of proportion and how it triggered the biggest fights. Yet I am convinced my grandmother would never condone this. 

No family is free of conflict.

In the same way that we are comprised of swirling atoms – positive and negative charges that attract and repel – family members are forces orbiting each other, moving towards and away, trying to find a way to coexist and take shape in the world.

My grandmother was a true matriarch because she was a real empath. 

She knew all too well what it felt like to be shunned by her family and local community. Having left her birthland Belgium after the war. She went to the UK with her German friend, Emmy. There were whispers : “collaborator” and “been married to a German officer”. I wouldn’t have to “convince” my grandmother of the feeling. She knew. And she wouldn’t condone history repeating itself.

Unfortunately, we cannot decide for another that their reaction is out of proportion. When it comes to arguments, it is dangerous to think of oneself as the barometer of sanity or the arbiter of overreactions (i.e. “I think you’re taking this way too personally”). Let go of any assumptions you have about how people should or must react to you. It never bodes well.

Now to the meat of my grandmother…

There are patterns in families that are well recognised that you see over and over again. Here are three patterns my family, and all of us, can examine as we think about how to fight better.

Check your Bias

We all hold assumptions, where we pick up evidence along the way to confirm what we think is true, and disregard any evidence that will challenge our conclusion, and make us reconsider our worldview.

So why do we persist in thinking other people don’t care about us when they are often trying to convince us that they do?

Because we organise our reality around these assumptions – they create order for us, structure among the chaos.

So please, don’t justify, don’t explain, don’t make excuses, but give me space to be annoyed. Acknowledge my frustration.

Cut Out the Character Assassination

When I do something wrong it’s typically circumstantial. But if you fail me, I attribute it to your character.

My family might be convinced of my character flaws; evidence of how disrespectful, uncaring, disorganised and distracted I am. My family, no doubt, has an entirely different view of their behaviour.

We call this fundamental attribution error where we attribute our mistakes to the context but the ones of our counterparts are rooted in their faulty personality.

Another way to phrase this is: I am good and you are bad.

I suggest a good dose of humor when this pattern appears in your family.

Avoid Always & Never

Conflict often creates a contraction in families, a rigidity, leaving little room for flexibility or nuance.

The “always” and “never” statements become factual – as if what we have asserted is empirically verified data.

One important thing to understand about family communication is that a lot of what is presented as fact is actually an intensification of someone’s experience.

When you say “never!” or “always” to someone, the first thing they will do is disagree, citing a contrary example from the past.

Don’t shift your feelings into pseudo-factual talk. The best thing you can do in an always/ never situation is say, “It feels like you do this all the time. Probably you don’t but in this moment, I feel like it’s so.”

Remember who you are. Don’t let anyone else determine your value. And have fun !

— The universe (here and now)



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