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3 Ways to re-write your personal family drama

Dr. Ben Michaelis is a clinical psychologist in full-time private practice in Manhattan. He is a Visiting Scholar at Columbia University and a frequent guest on TV and radio.

If you come from a family, and I find that most people do, when you spend time with them as a grown-up you are going to experience some degree of stress.

I was recently given access to exclusive snippets to the upcoming film This is Where I Leave You, which caused me to reflect upon why we all experience these tensions when we are with our families. The reason you have family drama comes from something that we psychologists call "role confusion."

Remember, you haven't always been an adult. Once upon a time, you were a rosy-cheeked baby, a kid sister or just someone's annoying younger cousin. Over the years, you have had many different roles in your family play. You haven't always been the "with it" adult who takes care of herself, makes thoughtful decisions about insurance and deftly plans surprise birthday parties.

When you go back to your childhood home it's not that you are necessarily transported to The Twilight Zone, it's just that you come face-to-face with people who knew you as that kid who they could bribe with a double-scoop with rainbow sprinkles. It's not your sister's fault that her knowledge of your personality ended right about the time that the two of you stopped sharing a room.

Because of this change in roles, when you get together with your family of origin, none of you are quite sure how to behave. You may all be wondering if you should treat each other like adults or just revert to old habits? If you decide to go with adult roles you may be confused as to what to talk about. Should you share intimate secrets like close friends or stick to light cocktail party banter? Going back to previous roles probably doesn't feel quite right either.

How do you take action on improving your family drama? Here are three suggestions.

No "leftovers"

No matter what happens when you are with your family, do not engage in, or allow anyone else to go back to negative behaviors from the past; no embarrassing nicknames, humiliating stories or anger about former injustices. If you are all here together, you are moving forward. If you see any of these "leftovers," change the subject or gently remind your family that it is not appropriate to do this.

The corrections

Notice the role that you are being asked to play and make a correction. For example, if your brother starts talking about how you are always late or that you get too many parking tickets, he may be trying to cast you in a teenage role. You can acknowledge that those things may have been true of you when you were 17, but that is not who you are as an adult. Tell him that you have learned from those experiences and grown up.

R-E-S-P-E-C-T

If you catch yourself regressing to older behaviors, remind yourself that you are an adult and you deserve respect. You can make better choices now. For example, if you feel that things are going south, you can leave early. Better to excuse yourself from a situation that is getting out of hand than to go nuclear and regret it down the line.

Following these suggestions is not a guarantee that your family play will be without tears, but if you get on the stage with some new directions, you can feel good about what you bring to the show.


Dr. Ben Michaelis is a clinical psychologist in full-time private practice in Manhattan. Dr. Michaelis writes and speaks regularly about mental health, creativity, taking action and getting to "what's next." He is the author of numerous popular and scholarly articles and is a regular contributor to SheKnows.com and The Huffington Post. Dr. Michaelis is a frequent guest on nationally syndicated TV shows such as NBC's The Today Show, The Hallmark Channel's Home & Family, and MSNBC's Your Business. He is the author of Your Next Big Thing: 10 Small Steps to Get Moving and Get Happy.

Disclosure: This is a sponsored post on behalf of SheKnows and This is Where I Leave You, a Warner Bros. Pictures film.

Photo credit: Plush Studios/Stockbyte/360/Getty Images
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