By Linda G. Ritchie, Ph.D.
One key to an emotionally healthy life is having the backing of a strong, supportive family. The size of the family does not matter as much as the feeling of belonging and the sense of sustenance that emerges from living with stable familial support. People seem to do better in life when they have the feeling of belonging to something larger and stronger than they are individually. A familial network diminishes the uncertainties that derive from the stresses of everyday living.
Some people believe that their families are too troubled to change. They feel that their families bring out the worst in each other and that they are plagued with insurmountable problems. They feel hopeless about changing their family life. However, many strong families have emerged from this place of despair, often in the face of a family crisis, to achieve a quality of strength, support, and vitality that they never thought would be possible. People can learn from their failures.
It may take the trained eye of a professional therapist to help a family move from this feeling of failure to one of success. An outsider can often observe patterns that family members themselves are not able to see. The support of a therapist can lead a family, one step at a time, through the process of identifying problems, developing strategies for dealing with each problem, and then following through. Even the most troubled families can grow with this type of support.
A family has everything to gain by deciding to work on building its strength. Home should be a vital, secure, and enhancing place – where comfort and support reside.
One way to start the process of strengthening your family is to try the following steps:
Look at the strengths your family already has.
Each member of the family can identify positive qualities that exist in even the most troubled of households. Let each person in the family discuss these strong points without condemnation.
Visualize what you would like your family to become.
Let each family member make up a “wish list” of things they would like to see in the family. Discuss these points and let the feedback be warm and accepting.
Identify specific goals.
Each family member should come up with a list of specific goals that they would like to see the family aim toward. These should be things can be accomplished (like going to a movie together or having dinner together every night). Then agree on five of the most important goals and put a date beside each goal.
Put people in charge of each of the goals
One person will be responsible for ensuring that his or her assigned goal is accomplished by the agreed upon date.
Understand that this is only the beginning.
Strengthening a family takes time. It is a process, not a one-time event. And we take it step by step.
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