When Relatives Have No Boundaries

By | 21/12/2015

“That’s what family is for” is a dangerous saying, because it opens the door to invasion of privacy and awkwardness, all while preventing us from building healthier and more mature relationships.

We’re taught, from childhood, that our relatives are unlike other people; we learn, early on, that our family members are unique and our relationship with them is special, following rules that do not apply to outsiders.

Our relationships with strangers and friends are cordial and follow more formal rules, based on respect and reciprocity. We are easily offended by any invasion of privacy, hate to feel that someone is taking advantage of us and react angrily against intrusive people – there’s only so much we’ll take from strangers and we’ll limit our contact with inappropriate people. Depending on the situation, people’s tempers and personalities, we either get into a nasty argument or walk away. We were raised to not put up with bad behavior, so to speak.

However, the rules are completely different when it comes to relatives, especially when they’re close. Parents, grandparents, siblings, cousins, aunts and uncles, all seem to think they’re entitled to give us a piece of their minds, which they’ll do brazenly and, what’s worse, without being asked. This kind of behavior would be intolerable if it came from a stranger, or even from friends, but it seems to be almost mandatory in the midst of our families. And don’t you dare be offended! You’ll be told something in the lines of “it’s for your own good! I’m your mother and I can be honest with you because I obviously love you.” Sometimes it comes from a different relative, but the message is the same.

Actually, though, the predominant emotion between relatives is not necessarily love. Often, for instance, sibling rivalry and jealousy can overshadow other positive feelings, forging a tumultuous relationship. After all, these issues go back to the “beginning of time”: the two first siblings were Cain and Abel, and one murdered the other. Rivalry and jealousy are also present in the relationships between fathers and sons, and mothers and daughters. Usually, there is love, but it’s not the only emotion present.

It would be unreasonable, then, to claim that the bonds between relatives are always positive and helpful. You can’t even say feelings for your mother or child are that pure. In fact, Freud’s most important reflections deconstructed the myth of the family as a sanctuary to the best and most beautiful emotions.

Family members often seem to find it particularly easy to demand things from each other. It incredibly hard for them to ask a stranger for money, but they’d have no such qualms in asking a relative – especially if this family member were better off; it would be their “duty” to rescue a less fortunate relative. After all, “this is what family is all about.”

“Obviously”, parents with means should help their children, and when the roles are reversed, grown children should support their parents, grandparents, that spinster aunt… but, to me, these rules don’t seem to be as obvious or clear. I believe these unique principles that guide only familial relations were created by weak and selfish opportunists, who were trying to mooch off their generous relatives. It seemed to them easier and, at first glance, smarter, to take from others what they couldn’t earn for themselves.

I don’t agree with the saying “you don’t have to hold back with family,” either. Exchanging insults, having arguments and then making up is a cycle that can alter any relationship, so the people who are closest to us are the ones we should treat best.

Tradução: Amanda Morris