For ten years Caesar ruled with an iron hand. Then with a wooden foot, and finally with a piece of string.

~ Spike Milligan ~

Nasty Families

March 14th, 2014 ~ Est. reading time: 2 mins, 18 secs

Family life can be cruel too.

Family life can be cruel too.

Why don’t counselors ever mention nasty families? Are they implying they don’t exist? Or is it just “not done” to label with such names?

Certainly words like “nasty”, “cruel”, and “brutal” are avoided. Though who hasn’t met people from families that have these properties?

We all know the psychological model prefers to strip away emotive terms and avoid blaming words. From a counseling point of view that’s understandable.

Yet, in strenuously sidestepping away from the nastiness of some people, we tacitly feed into themes of diminished responsibility (“The reason I bashed my wife was because I had a bad childhood”). 

Malice and spite may very well have their origins in some terrible upbringing (though, perhaps surprisingly, they often don’t). But it doesn’t take away personal accountability form the horrors that any of us perpetrate.

Too many children grow up in homes where they are systematically humiliated, berated, and psychologically damaged. And it’s all thanks to the meanness of people who can only be called “parents” in a biological sense.

Likewise, those men who beat, intimidate, and mentally torture their wife don’t deserve the title of husband any more than some thug in the street.

Note, though that we can all do terrible things to others at various times and degrees in our life. Which is why having a “good guys/bad guys” mindset isn’t particularly helpful (for the cruel and violent often feel they are good guys too).

On top of that much of what is really criminal dodges accountability. For vile actions frequently escape liability. Inside family life, maliciousness has a hiding place.

That some folk are even subjected to family nastiness on multiple fronts is predictable as it is predictable. Other relatives abuse too, all collectively stealing trust and wrecking opportunities to show love, compassion, and appreciation.

Which is why care needs to be writ large in family life. What we say and how we treat each other may well be invisible to the outside world. But inevitably actions define everyone. Those closest know most about how we behave, whether it is kind or with callous regard.

True, abuse of power, thoughtlessness, and indifference are within the realm of anyone’s ability. But so too is compassion, admiration, helpfulness and dignity.

Unless people hold these values close to their heart things generate rather quickly. Even seemingly reasonable people can turn into name-calling, selfish individuals, heedless to the impact their actions. And it can happen in a flash.

Happiness is not to be had in a vacuum. We manufacture it ourselves by the words we choose to use and the works our actions produce. The more good we give in our lifetime the more we create catalysts for happiness (for ourselves and those around us).

As a rule of thumb, the closer others are to us in relationship, the greater that impact will become. So happiness is ours when we make enough of it. At home, at work, and wherever else it’s our kindness (or its absence) that stands out.

When family members emphasize a nonsensical “stutopia” of nastiness, they can never have happiness. It takes the courage of kindness to bring gladness and the more any of us add that, the sweeter life becomes.

The Good And Bad News Of Adulthood

When Good Looking Is Ugly

The Fun And Games Of Family Dynamics


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