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Effects of extended family and our health

Dr Gaisie 1.jfif Dr. Annie Gaisie

Mon, 18 May 2020 Source: Dr. Annie Gaisie

The quality of our relationships with our extended family- mother, father, siblings, aunts, uncles, grandparents and more, could make a real difference in our health.

As Africans, we turn to place a great value on our loyalty to our extended families.

A new study finds people who feel they aren't supported by their extended family are more likely to suffer chronic illness than those who aren't happy with their spouse or partner.

Trina's story:

Trina a Ghanaian woman is happily married, has 3 children and is an accomplished professional. Despite her success, she’s always felt excluded from her family—particularly by her sisters and mother, who are hostile and critical all the time.

Trina states: ”My sisters were never able to celebrate anything positive in my life. Every achievement l made or good news was treated as nothing- either not mentioned or had to be about something they did better.”

In sessions, Trina would comment, “No one communicates directly with one another in my family. So issues that needs to be talked about are expressed in passive-aggressive ways, like shutting down emotionally or gossiping behind someone’s back.

My mother was worse. As if she enjoyed seeing the commotion going on. And since issues were and are never dealt with head-on, we never resolve them.”

As a result, Trina's family are in a constant state of tension, hostility and conflict.

“No one takes responsibility,” she says. “I always feel scapegoated, too. My achievements are belittled, minimised or criticised.

My parents never confront my siblings or protect me when they act blatantly hurtful toward me. They would collude against me, and they still do now.”

“My family affects me emotionally, to the point where it interferes with being able to enjoy my own family and life on a daily basis. My family causes me to be depressed and anxious all the time. I did not know this before until about a year ago, when my health started deteriorating.”

Trina’s story is similar to many of our African families.

We look to our family members to be the ones we can rely on the most to keep us safe physically and emotionally.

To love us unconditionally, to watch out for us, to support and encourage us.

When they fail at these things, it can leave a deep wound.

Attempts to lessen the emotional damage might include hoping things will improve in the future, implementing strategies for damage-proofing family relationships by always making excuses for family member's negative behaviours.

A poor family dynamic contributes to depression, anxiety, substance abuse, low self-esteem and many other issues.

Figuring out how to cope is crucial to one’s emotional / physical health.

Some helpful ways to manage:

1. Is important to understand that, we all want a family that’s supportive, loving and kind. Unfortunately, not everyone can. Processing and accepting this loss is an important step in moving forward.

2. Use discretion in what you share, and limit the time you spend with them. Set your own boundaries so their behaviours don’t affect you.

3. It’s hard not to be influenced by family members; we care what they think about us. But no one can make you feel bad without your permission.

4. Make a conscious effort to build relationships that are supportive, positive, loving and people you can rely on to support you. Such people do not have to always be blood relations.

5. We have to make an emotional and cognitive shift away from the way our family views the world and their definition of who we are. In the process, we become individuals with our own perspectives, feelings and ideas.

Culture and traditions are beautiful, but if they impact on our physical and mental wellbeing, we need to make a decision that’s beneficial to us.

By: Dr. Annie Gaisie, Psychologist - Addictive Behaviour.

Email- dovewomen@gmail.com

Columnist: Dr. Annie Gaisie