Lesson 5 of 7 - evolve a high-nurturance family

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Resolve Family
Loyalty Conflicts

By Peter K. Gerlach, MSW
Member NSRC Experts Council

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The Web address of this 3-page article is http://sfhelp.org/fam/lc.htm

Updated  December 16, 2014

      Clicking underlined links here will open a new window. Other links will open  an informational popup, so please turn off your browser's popup blocker or allow popups from this nonprofit Web site. If your playback device doesn't support Javascript, the popups may not display. Follow underlined links after finishing this article to avoid getting lost.

      This brief YouTube video previews what you'll read in this article: The intro mentions 8 self-improvement lessons in this site. I've reduced that to seven.

      This is one of a series of articles on evolving and enjoying high-nurturance families (Lesson 5). The series exists because the wide range of current U.S. social problems suggests that most families don't fill the primary needs of (nurture) their members very well. That suggests the epidemic effects of the lethal [wounds + unawareness] cycle proposed in this nonprofit, ad-free Web site .  

     This article focus on one of three widespread relationship stressors - loyalty (priority) conflicts. The other two are values conflicts and relationship triangles. These are specially common and stressful in typical low-nurturance, divorcing, and step families. Typical adults are unaware of what causes these stressors, their impacts on families and relationships, and how to avoid and resolve them effectively.

      This article covers...

  • What are loyalty conflicts?

  • What causes them?

  • What are loyalty conflicts like for kids?

  • Ways to avoid and resolve loyalty conflicts in biofamilies and stepfamilies,

  • A worksheet to help you learn how your family handles loyalty conflicts now (p. 3),.and...

  • A safe exercise to promote family awareness and discussion (p. 3).

      This article assumes you're familiar with...

  • the intro to this nonprofit Web site and the premises underlying it

  • self-improvement Lessons 1-5

  • an overview of three related relationship stressors

  • Options for resolving values conflicts

  • this example of resolving a loyalty conflict
     

  What are Loyalty (Priority) Conflicts?

      They occur when two people disagree with or dislike each other, and each expects a third person to support them over the other.

      Any adult or child in a family can feel "caught in the middle." If they support one person, they risk the other feeling hurt, discounted, and/or "second best." If they choose neither person ("I'm staying out of this.")  both people may feel hurt and resentful. Catch 22.

      Loyalty dilemmas are a kind of values conflict - clashing preferences or beliefs, like "I'm a meat-aholic, and you're a vegetarian - so what do we have for dinner?

       Often there are more than two people depending on the person in the middle. Loyalty conflicts can occur between people thousands of miles apart, and may include babies in the womb or a crib, dead people, someone's Higher Power, and/or hero/ine or mentor.

      As you learn to spot and master values and loyalty conflicts, you'll often need to resolve one or more Persecutor - Rescuer - Victim relationship triangles. Can your family adults do this yet? Do your kids know what these three common stressors are yet? Who's responsible for teaching them?

  Why are Loyalty Conflicts Stressful?

      If you've experienced these dilemmas, you know the answer. These conflicts stress individuals, couples, and families because they promote hurt, resentment, guilt, shame, confusion, frustration, and blame. That is, they lower a relationship's or family's nurturance level and hinder healthy personal development. Do you agree?

   What Causes Loyalty Conflicts?

      Several factors promote these stressors in all human groups...

  • Personal and social unawareness,

  • significant psychological wounds and possibly incomplete grief in one or more people, and...

  • lack of knowledge (vs. stupidity) - specially of effective communication basics and skills (Lesson 2).

Once aware of these factors, people (like you) can reduce each of them over time. Before looking at options to do this, let's explore

   What are Loyalty Conflicts Like for Kids?

      Typical pre-teens lack the understanding and vocabulary to alert adults to their reactions and specific needs, They may experience anxiety when other people are conflicted ("who do I side with here?"), and when they are part of a loyalty dispute - specially when feeling "in the middle.".

      Normal young kids are egocentric. Lacking age-appropriate adult explanations and reassurances, they often feel responsible for tensions in their home. Sometimes that causes "tantrums" which signal inexpressible [confusion + frustration + anxiety + guilt + shame] "overwhelm." Remember how this feels? When did you last feel overwhelmed? 

      Typical minor kids in low-nurturance (''dysfunctional'') families unconsciously protect themselves from overwhelm ("pain") by a mix of...

  • numbing and/or distracting themselves (including fantasizing),

  • distancing from their adults emotionally and/or physically,

  • "acting out" at home and/or school, and/or...

  • "getting depressed."

      Unaware, wounded caregivers are apt to make the child the problem, rather than looking at whether their family and parenting dynamics are filling a "problem child's" needs well enough. This is specially likely in troubled, divorcing, adoptive, foster, and step families.

      Bottom line - loyalty and values conflicts and PVR triangles are specially stressful for most minor kids because they (a) don't understand them, (b) can't articulate what they feel and need, (c) may feel over-responsible for them, and (d) their caregivers may not understand or empathize with this.

      Kids need their adults to adopt a family-system awareness, proactively guard them from adult wounds and conflicts, and learn how to avoid or dissolve loyalty and other disputes. Are your family adults doing that now? If not - what's in the way? 

 Options for Managing Loyalty Conflicts

      Some options apply to all families, and others to average divorcing families and stepfamilies. We'll look at both. Follow the links for more detail on each option.

Options for All Families

      To avoid or manage all relationship stressors...

  • adopt a long-range viewpoint and the open mind of a student.

  • study these premises about "relationship problems" and adapt them to fit you and your family;

  • learn about the [wounds + unawareness] cycle that causes most stressors, and ask your family adults to learn about it too;

  • assess yourself and your family members for psychological wounds, and commit to a personal recovery program as appropriate. Invite your family adults and older teens to do the same, Expect false-self disinterest and "resistance."

  • Learn to recognize when false-selves control you or others. Then learn how to free your true Self and how to relate well-enough to wounded adults and kids.

  • Learn effective-communication basics and skills, and invite other family members to do the same. Help each other learn how and when to discover the unfilled primary needs causing your relationship problems.

  • tailor these ideas about improving communication effectiveness with adults and kids, and adapt them to fit your situation.

  • Ask other family adults and older kids to join you in learning how to understand and spot values and loyalty conflicts and relationship triangles and how to separate them, because they often occur together.

      Illustrate loyalty conflicts by having a person tug on each extended arm of a third person (including kids), and say "C'mon - side with me!" with some energy. Then ask the person in the middle to describe how this felt and what s/he thought and needed.

  • Invite all family adults and kids to develop a loyalty-conflict language. That can sound like:

"We have a loyalty conflict here, and _________ is in the middle."

  • Evolve an adult strategy for resolving family loyalty conflicts. Elements of your strategy can include...

    • agree to devote enough undistracted time to resolve them. View this as an investment in family (or relationship) harmony.

    • make sure everyone understands the difference between win-win- problem-solving and these lose-lose alternatives. 

    • ask each person to identify what they need, and why. Use hearing checks to confirm each person hears the others clearly.

    • discuss whose needs are most important. The ideal decision is "All our needs our equally important here and now," Emergencies and disabled people may be exceptions.

    • use effective communication skills to brainstorm a solution that fills each person's needs well-enough for now.

    • if your strategy works well enough, appreciate each of you. If it doesn't, discuss what got in the way, and learn from that. The most common blocks are psychological wounds, unawareness, and not knowing how to communicate effectively.

    • teach any young people in your life how to do this, and encourage them to try it.

      Reflect - what are you thinking and feeling now? Do you feel these options would help you resolve most loyalty conflicts? If not - why? Are you willing to try these options and see what happens?

Continue with more loyalty-conflict options for typical divorcing families and stepfamilies and/or with a worksheet to learn how your family resolves these conflicts now.

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