Nine Ways to Heal Family Rifts & Become More Functional

You can choose to heal family rifts or allow them to grow wider—to help your family become more functional or dysfunctional. Even if your family members don’t always cooperate, the choice to encourage healthy dynamics is yours. Here are nine actions you can take every day to fortify deeper and happier bonds with your loved ones.

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The larger-than-life bond of family shines through sorrows and joys alike. The divine connection that exists within a family is a light that cannot be dimmed, no matter the distance between its members. Family relationships are complex, intense, and powerful, at best. They require not only patience, but an understanding of both their psychological and karmic components.

As a soul on the other side, you agreed to reincarnate into a certain family to further your spiritual evolution. The family you would be born into wouldn’t be “perfect” by any means: there would be family members you can’t stand and others you would have nothing in common with. But your family would be perfect for working on your karma. These details were etched into your karmic contract, which outlined who would be your family members, what challenges you would have to face with each of them, as well as what you would have to do to solve the problems between you.

Because you have free will, you can choose to heal family rifts or allow them to grow wider—to help your family become more functional or dysfunctional. Even if your family members don’t always cooperate, the choice to encourage healthy dynamics is yours. Here are nine actions you can take every day to fortify deeper and happier bonds with your loved ones:

Put your pride aside. Pride is the number one cause of familial grief. That’s because our ego, the generator of our pride, makes us stubbornly hold on to the notion that we and only we can be right. Pride comes between families in ugly ways. It can simply devastate a family because the members begin to see themselves as individuals disassociated from the whole. Pride causes us to lose the sense of unity and only look out for ourselves. Many of my clients say they haven’t spoken to their parent or sibling in years. When I ask them why, I usually receives a “proud” answer: “They hurt me . . .” or “They did this to me. . ..” The answer always implies a “me” factor—that’s pride showing its ugly head. In a family, it’s easy to find reasons not to get along—after all, just because you’re family doesn’t mean you’re not completely different people. But by letting go of pride and having a sense of humor about conflicting ideas and preferences, you can remain close. Pride makes us do foolish things we regret, but it should never cause us to ostracize someone we care about. Don’t be so proud that you allow a resolvable matter to become a karmic rift in your clan.

Set limits for others and yourself. Setting boundaries means protecting yourself from egos that have been triggered by old issues and karma that is probably carried over from past lifetimes. It means making choices like not drinking to the point of doing something you’ll later regret, not letting your frustration build without taking some time out to defuse your anger, and not attending a gathering where you know you’ll encounter someone who clashes with you. Whenever possible, avoid situations that are bound to become bad ones. Know the limits of your patience. If your family is driving you crazy lately and you’re under a lot of stress, limit your interactions until the emotions have settled and you’re better able to tolerate each other. Limit the amount of time the gathering lasts, too, and make it easy for family members to take their leave without a drama ensuing. Avoid conversations and activities that have led to conflict in the past. Relationships require a degree of discipline, and it becomes your responsibility to steer clear of scenarios that play on your weaknesses or push others’ buttons. That way, you can achieve a healthy degree of separation from others so that they can’t negatively influence your well-being.

Meditate and reflect to modulate your emotions. Many times it is we who stir the pot of drama. Our own escalating emotions can quickly turn a day out into a disaster. When you leave the house, don’t just check if you have your cell phone and wallet—check how you feel and why you feel this way. Take a moment and ask yourself: Do I feel tense, irritable, or stressed today? Will these feelings create friction with others or make it difficult for me to enjoy myself? If the answer is yes, take a moment to clear your heart and mind of any lingering anger, irritation, or frustration before stepping out to be in the company of others. A quick five-minute meditation will help relax you and turn your mood from anxious to excited. Perform this check-in with yourself throughout the day to keep the emotional waters in your home calm.

Settle old differences. If there’s been discord between you and someone else, don’t leave the situation unsettled, as old problems tend to become recurring problems. Make a list of anyone with whom you share unresolved conflict—friends you don’t see eye to eye with, family members who make you irate, even people with whom you’ve had a bad falling-out. Remember, all your relationships affect one another. A spat with your mother will affect your relationship with your daughter, even if they live many miles apart. Promise to resolve these differences you have with others one way or another, even if it’s sending the individuals on your list a quick e-mail wishing them well and sending them peace. Detach from negative memories by surrendering your ego and stating to the other person that you hold no grudges. You will feel a surge of serenity when you truly forgive and forge ahead.

Refrain from provocation. There is no need to give in when someone is pushing your buttons. Take a deep breath and commit to resolving the situation within yourself before asking the other person to change his or her behavior. Work on your own issues and then say, gently, “I know you probably don’t realize it, but when you do [name the behavior], I feel [name how you feel].” Give the other person the benefit of the doubt and an opportunity to apologize and shift his or her behavior. Don’t take the behavior personally; your family member may be disrespecting you in that moment but have deep respect for you overall. Whenever someone provokes you, be the bigger person and distract yourself from your emotions by reminding yourself that you are above arguments. The greater truth is that your souls chose to be closely related in this life so that you could learn from each other. Walking away from an argument instead of giving in to it will command respect and recognition and open the doors for love and kindness to flow freely once more.

Give people time. Change is a process, not a result, and it requires time. People may need to change, but it takes a while for them to see this and begin to work on themselves. The best thing you can do for a family member who is difficult to handle is to gently push them toward the changes they need to make while being patient and offering unconditional support.

The best way to help someone change is by showing them what change looks like—change yourself to reflect the behaviors they need to work on. If you have a family member who is always bad-mouthing everybody, don’t indulge in this behavior yourself. Tell them you won’t partake in gossip or spreading negative words about others. In time, they’ll understand they can’t get away with it in front of you. They may even come to understand that what they’re doing is wrong and modify their behavior. In the meantime, don’t nag them or criticize them constantly. Allow them to evolve at their own pace. Rising above the behaviors of others sets you up as an example for change. Your patience may be tested as the people in your family perform their own inner work, but this gives you a chance to expand your own threshold of tolerance for others, which in turn makes you a better, more evolved person.

Wear their shoes. As they say, “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about.” You must try to imagine what it’s like to walk someone else’s path in life (even if you think you can imagine it, it’s probably still nothing like you imagine). It’s easy to pinpoint the shortcomings of your family members—they may be judgmental, hypocritical, or annoying. But it’s more difficult to understand the roots of their weaknesses. You might think you know them well because you lived with them for years, but you can’t truly know what is going on in another person’s heart because you haven’t lived that person’s life or fought his or her battles.

Your family wants what’s best for you, but they may have trouble expressing that or may go about it in a completely inappropriate way. When you understand this, you learn not to take their words and actions that may be out of line too personally. You begin to see the roots of their weaknesses surface, the bare wound of their failings. Appreciate that sort of familial intimacy. We must try to wear each other’s shoes, even if the size doesn’t fit, to understand where others are coming from before resorting to judgment or blame.

Beware of external influences. External influences are often the cause of family dramas. You may have problems with your mother because of your sister or argue with your mother-in-law because she is pressuring you to parent in a certain way. Whether we realize it or not, even friends and coworkers can play a big role in our family dynamic. The energy of everyone around seeps into all of our relationships, often without our awareness. The best thing we can do is be mindful of our influences and keep our relationships as separate as we can. This is not to say that you should cut off the people you love. But when a person’s energy has become toxic, you can—and must—keep him or her at arm’s length. Set firm boundaries. You may have to say, “I appreciate your concern and advice, and I’ll consider it,” and make a note to yourself not to discuss the situation with that person any further.

You can also compromise with the people affecting your relationships as well as those affected by them. Stand up firmly but politely against people who are negatively impacting your relationships. Show them love and compassion, but do not tolerate their unnecessary impressions on other aspects of your life. In terms of family, appreciating the young and old alike and absorbing the unique wisdom of each family member, without letting them influence you, will strengthen the bond of kinship.

Have bonding rituals. People sometimes wince at the idea of “family bonding,” because they think it entails seeing distant, somewhat irritating family members on special occasions under less-than-pleasant circumstances. But family bonding can happen at any time, whether it’s gathering to watch a movie together or simply walking the family dog around the block. Even arguments have their place in a family that wishes to have strong bonds because you’re sharing emotions with your family members and the process of making up, healing, and learning after an argument can leave you closer than before. Conflict is an opportunity for all parties to grow and master their karma. It also is an opportunity for developing greater trust and intimacy. The key is to make the conflict as loving as possible—to be patient with each other and truly listen to and respect each other.

Bonding can occur whenever you spend time with your family members, being attentive to their needs and trying to incorporate activities they like to do. The less you look at forming bonds as a chore, the less it becomes one, and the more it turns into a pleasure. Change your mentality from “I need to get along with this person” to “I want to get along with this person.” Put effort into getting along with your parents and children. Ask them about their feelings and their stories. Do you know what your father wanted to be when he grew up, or whether his passions were encouraged? Do you know your mother’s greatest disappointment, or your stepdaughter’s biggest fear? Better yet, can you relate to their anecdotes or do you share similar experiences? Look past the behaviors that bother you and open your heart to hear their unique stories. There is a greater reason they are in your life, a reason beyond the complications and disagreements.

Practice these nine actions to resolve family problems and enjoy a healthier dynamic with your loved ones. Even if their behavior is too intense or your bond is frayed, value them and wish them healing. Pray for them, and pray for yourself, too. Try to protect them while protecting yourself. Your karma will remain unstained and the bond will be healed in this lifetime. Love them today, as they are, and don’t forget to love yourself.

To happy families,

Dr. Carmen Harra

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