"Once a storm passes and the sun breaks through the clouds, a beautiful rainbow adorns the sky!"
Family gatherings can be awkward and sometimes downright hostile. While some may say they came from great families, there is a bit of dysfunction in all, going all the way back to Adam and Eve. But dysfunction does not have to rule the day; as June Hunt put it, "Once a storm passes and the sun breaks through the clouds, a beautiful rainbow adorns the sky! The rainbow reminds us there is always hope... even after the most violent storms."
Sometimes, however, what is wrong goes way beyond dysfunction. Perhaps you have noticed things are just not quite right with a family member. You know that--whatever the problem is--it goes beyond dysfunction. So what do you do when you feel there is a real problem with a family member?
Mental health issues are not that uncommon in this day and age, more so if your family has a history of mental heath conditions. The first thing you should remember is that you are not a professional. You cannot begin to dig into what is wrong. For one, you are involved which leads to emotional attachment to the family member, and the second reason is that a professional may notice things that someone in the family does not.
Begin by calmly evaluating yourself. What is your motive? Do you truly want to help? We may not recognize our own biases or grudges at first. You may also be contributing to the problem. Co-dependency is common among family members of alcoholics and those with mental health issues. For instance, if your sibling has anger issues and tends to burst out into tears at family gatherings, do you tend to give in to their demands for attention? You may also want to calmly evaluate the situation. Is this problem causing grief in your family? If it is temporary, then there may only be an acute problem. If it has been an on going issue, then a chronic dysfunction may exist. One of the criteria for many mental health conditions is that it lasts for two weeks and causes significant impairment in that person's life. The final evaluation must be done by a professional to determine if there is truly a mental health condition.
Next, you need to decide how you want to construct your boundaries. Often times, boundaries are not kept between family members, particularly when co-dependency occurs. Step back and evaluate how you want to interact with your family, what your priorities are, and work on communication. You can gently and assertively let others know when they have stepped over the line with you. This will take much practice as habits and family norms have been set for many years. Things will not change overnight. They say to form a new habit you have to repeat the same actions 20 times or more. Patience is definitely the key.
You may also want to choose whether you discuss the problem with your family member. They may not realize their own behaviors. This is a tricky one that does not always work. Confrontation may not be the best answer, but for some it is the only answer. Confrontation may need to occur if their behavior is destructive or abusive. In some cases, even hospitalization is needed. Seek the help of a professional before confronting a family member. You may not be prepared for their reaction. If at all possible, try to gently inform them that you have noticed a change. Again, they may not be aware that they are depressed for example. Education, in this case, may be the answer.
Finally, do not forget about yourself. It is a stressful time, and you must take care of your own needs. There are many helpful support groups out there as well as educational materials. Begin with yourself, and you will start to feel some peace of mind.
Through all of this, pray. Prayer can accomplish more than you and all the mental health professionals combined, so pray persistently.
And never lose hope. Change may not come quickly, but recognition of a problem is the start toward healing.