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Family Relationships and Helping Them Heal

Justin Nielsen Licensed Professional Counselor, MA, LPC, LAC, QMHP

National Siblings Day was this past Saturday, 4/10/21. This is a wonderful opportunity to share memories on social media, connect with your siblings, and remind them how much they mean to you. Especially, as we continue to figure out how to reengage with family due to COVID19 and social distancing, a day such as this is a great opportunity to remind them, and yourself, how important family can be. Family, especially siblings, can be the biggest support for managing mental health and substance use concerns or they can be a huge trigger. Often, unhealthy ways of communication or pressure to abuse a substance is engrained in the sibling dynamic and can reemerge on special occasion. It can be difficult to maintain healthy lifestyle changes within yourself when you’re engaging in family dynamics that are unhealthy. For many of those who struggle, distancing yourself and not speaking for long periods of time may seem like a great idea. Unfortunately, this may halt the growing and healing process of relationship and can actually hinder self-growth of the individual. Here are a few ways to help navigate relationships.

Boundaries: There are three types of boundaries, porous, rigid, and healthy. I like to think about boundaries like a castle with a wall and a drawbridge around it. A rigid boundary is like the castle with a strong stone wall, but there are no windows or doors. Yes, it keeps the people inside safe from invaders, but eventually the people will starve. A porous boundary is the castle with no wall, maybe just markings or flags to communicate where the castle starts. This keeps the castle unprotected and extremely vulnerable to invaders. A healthy boundary is somewhere in the middle. There are times when the castle is open for business, trading goods, skills and other resources. However, there are other times when that wall needs to go up, and the castle maintains its protective barrier. Finding that balance is different for everyone and every relationship. Knowing more about your needs, as well as those of others, is a great way to identify how to maintain that open boundary as well as how to identify when the guards must be posted and on alert.

Communication skills: For many people, we try to mind read, make assumptions and use unhealthy tactics, such as the silent treatment. We may have learned these skills within our family system and unknowingly use these tactics in our everyday relationships. In order to break from these habits, it is important to know more about yourself. Using skills of I-Feel statements, identifying how you perceive issues, and discussing what you would like to change can be helpful to communicate your own position. Taking personal responsibility and asking yourself, what do I feel/need right now can be a great way to communicate your experience to others as well as open a dialogue rather putting others on the defense.

Positive activities: Positive activities are a great way to build new memories, get out of old habits, and manage mental health and substance abuse issues. Maybe it’s trying a new activity, or engaging in something you used to do. It is an opportunity to break stagnancy and enjoy your moments with people that are important to you. Sometimes, positive activities can be a bit of an ice-breaker for when you decide to reengage an old relationship. Focused activities can provide a distraction from conflict, reminding yourself and others why these relationships were originally so important. It may then lead to communicating about the past and healing from those old wounds.

If you are looking for help with old relationships, setting boundaries, communication skills, or how to engage in positive activity, clinicians with Renew Counseling Services can offer in-person, and/or telehealth, individual therapy sessions, as well as couples or family counseling. Feel free to give us a call for a free consultation to examine if our services could be right for you.