Being torn between my loyalties towards family versus friends was never pleasant. I recall specific events where I was treated with disdain after returning from an afternoon with a friend in my neighbourhood. It was not just from my father, it was pretty much from the whole family. Having a social life seemed wrong, and being socially awkward was my default disposition. I suspect the two went hand-in-hand.
The insecurity of a family unit that grows insular by default rather than necessity is often a reflection of the insecurity of those that yield the most influence on them. It’s almost cult-ish by nature. The indoctrination that suggests that choosing the company of others automatically implies that you place less significance on your own family members is unnatural and stifling. Having to choose between your absolute loyalty to family that precludes any other bonds from being established and wanting a space for free expression unattached to your family should not be a choice that anyone should have to make. It sets the scene for a precedent that can rarely, if ever be met.
The underlying principle is a simple one. If you impose limitations on others, limitations that don’t shape their moral or ethical standing but instead is aimed at defining their movement and free association with others, you need to be damn sure that you’re in a position to offer them what they would otherwise get from those social circles. Family can be toxic as much as they can be a blessing. Often, in a less healthy environment, they stifle the growth of each other and root themselves in a point from the past based on the belief that they need to protect each other from a perceived, but often unrealistic threat. Simply stated, a family of victims of society are more likely to restrain the social activities and affiliations of its members than one that is secure in their collective individuality.
But that begs the question as to how do we become a family of victims to begin with? Again, I look towards the most influential members of the family, typically the father, or the mother, or both. They set the tone for what is perceived to be healthy and balanced, versus what is unacceptable or intolerable. Their fears and insecurities are often passed on as truths and realities, while preventing sufficient exposure for any of their children to determine the veracity of such claims themselves. This ensures that the established authority in the household remains unchallenged, and that the balance that is comfortable for the insecure, remains above reproach. Despite its best intentions, it is a sick environment in which to raise a healthy mind.
I’ve often witnessed first hand how such environments yield common chronic health conditions. The kind of conditions for which most are happy to blame faulty genes, while remaining oblivious to the stress and strain our bodies face when subdued in such an unnatural way. Occasionally one member of the family will be free from that condition. They will generally have a more optimistic or healthy outlook on life, including a healthier social experience. However, the inclination under such circumstances is for the rest to believe that that one individual is fortunate, and since they are not afflicted with the same ill-health, it is therefore possible to live a healthier and more meaningful life. That is simply rubbish.
When we stop to consider the impact of our emotions on our physical wellbeing, and stop writing everything off as a disease that attacks us from without instead of within, then hopefully we’ll stand a chance of breaking the cycle. The stress coping techniques that we adopt as we grow are learned from those we’re most exposed to. When that exposure is limited to only an insular family unit, it stands to reason that the resultant ill-health will be a common experience as well, hence being misconstrued as a genetic inheritance.
The cycle can be broken, but it requires exposure to other frames of reference for us to develop any reason to question the truths that we hold dear about life. Of course the reverse is also true. If that insular family unit is balanced in its embrace of life, then it also stands to reason that the individuals that it spawns will be balanced by nature. This is unfortunately rare, if not impossible, because a healthy balance would unwittingly provoke broader inclusion in society, including the necessary contribution towards remedying the ills of that society.
The greatest irony of society is that it is most severely criticised by those that are in fact an inherent part of its make-up. When we assume a level of aloofness and distance ourselves from the ills of society, we become party to the problem, rather than the solution. Too often those that break the cycle extract themselves from the environment that spawned them. While it may be healthy for the individual to do so, it robs the very same society of the resources and influences that are needed to uplift its social fabric to be one that is healthier and more wholesome. That societal structure can be as small as a single family, or as big as a community of families. Either way, we are an inherent part of it, even if we remove ourselves from it. That absence defines our contribution, whether we like it or not.
The test of our character therefore arises when we find ourselves needing to hold on to the new-found freedoms experienced external to that sick cycle, while acknowledging our responsibility to assist others to see that there is a life that is possible beyond the unhealthy indoctrination that defined our reality before that point. Empowerment lies not in liberating yourself only, but in liberating those with a similar affliction as your own.