In honour of International Day of Families, the article below was written by Graeme Bigg, a member of the SelfharmUK training team.
Who are your family?
Your birth family? Those who raised you? The people you live with today? The ones you argue with about who’s used all the hot water?
Often, our families are the people who know us best. Whether they have been with us since our birth, their birth, or some other point in our lives, our families get to know us really well. This isn’t necessarily through talking, although we might share conversation about what happened in our day or who we have a crush on or what we’d really like to do in the summer. It’s through living with one another – seeing each other at their best and their worst, their moments of joy, anger, pride, sadness. This shared experience can bring us closer (‘Remember when I came home upset and you sat on my bed and we cried together’) and can drive us apart (‘Just because I wet myself in PE once, you don’t need to keep reminding me’) – we’ve been on a journey together, and we can’t un-live that.
When there are people who know us really well, it can be difficult to share personal information with them. Whether we value them highly or not at all, we can be concerned with how they will react – at first to the news, and then to the knowledge. Will they judge us? Will they pity us? Will they laugh at us? And once they’ve thought it over, will they ignore the information? Will they keep bringing it up? Whenever we share something of ourselves in life, we no longer have complete control over it, and that can be scary.
However, this is only one side of the coin. While we might lose complete control, we also lose complete burden. When we share our story with someone, we also share the weight of it. We don’t have to be the only one carrying who we are, and instead we can have the support of others around us. And whereas with somebody new we have to explain from the beginning, our families have already been with us for some of that journey. They might not understand everything, and might need to take a new perspective on some of the things they know, but they are already familiar with at least some of the parts of our life, and so they are usefully-placed for supporting us.
We might be suspicious. Much as they know us, we know them, and so we can remember the time when someone in our family shouted at us or told a tale about us. We know how they have reacted in the past; how will they react with something this big? Truth be told, you don’t know. You’ll never know, until you start to share it. But what’s important to remember about your family is that they know you and have been with you for some time. Whether you’ve known them your whole life or just been with them for the past twelve months, your family have lived with you (and you with them) and been on a journey with you; there is a commitment there. They are committed to you, and are not likely to disappear overnight. This means that, should we share information, those who will help us carry the weight of it will be around to keep supporting us. It also means that even if they don’t understand some or all of what we say, they will continue on that journey.
When it comes to sharing your story, it’s yours to share. You can share all, some, little or none. What I’d suggest is that you share slowly. Make sure that you are comfortable with how much you tell your family, and when you are used to a particular level of sharing, try a bit more. You don’t have to tell your family everything, but keeping them in the loop can help them keep track of how you feeling, how you are coping, and how they can best support you. Family loyalties are not based on how people are feeling on a day-to-day basis but a recognition of something deeper; why not use that commitment to build up a support you can go to when you want.