We all know the adage: Nobody's perfect. We all have flaws. Many of them we would like to change. But a few of them are here to stay -- and all we can hope is that the people who love us will accept this.
Dr. Wendy Walsh: I would venture to say that the only time a human being seems to be completely void of flaws is when they are caught in the snare of romantic love. The chemicals associated with sexual attraction cloud our vision, and the object of our desire, for a brief few weeks or months, is a perfect partner. But this is one of nature's tricks to get us attached. Then, as sexual attraction and romantic love give birth to the workhorse of intimacy and companionship, suddenly our partner is not so perfect anymore. Certain flaws crop up in unmistakable focus -- our partner is not perfect. He snores, he watches too much sports, or he spends money in a weird way.
The same phenomenon happens with the love for our children. When that perfect newborn with the intoxicating aroma and the peach-fuzz head starts to morph into a wild child, or a nose-picker, or a sloppy kid, or a loud-mouth, or a painfully shy introvert. Granted, part of our job with kids is to help mold them out of bad character traits and get them world ready by the age of 18, but as every mother knows, you have to choose your battles -- and battling a genetic predisposition is often a no-win situation.
Learning to accept the flaws of our loved ones is an important piece in building emotional intimacy. Remember, emotional intimacy is the glue that makes relationships secure -- that keeps attachments steady when the world is rocking out of control. And, if you are harboring secret resentments toward your family members' most personal habits, you will unknowingly cause a leak in your ship. Because even if we think we are concealing our opinions, those pesky prejudices sneak out when we are busy talking and living and loving. The unconscious knows all. And your family members know on some deep level that you don't truly accept them -- that your relationship might be threatened by, say, an outsider who breezes through life without the baggage of your husband (he'll have other baggage, of course, but you will be blind to it at the beginning). And this kind of insecurity is toxic to attachments.
Funny thing about our judgments, they are often pieces of ourselves pointed outward. Psychologists call it Carl Jung's "Shadow." When dark parts of our personalities are too uncomfortable to tolerate, we scan the environment and point fingers at the very thing we are. If you are skeptical about this concept, start to pay attention to the sources of critical gossip. The next time you hear a wagging tongue and see a pointing finger, study the source well. You'll be surprised and enlightened.
So, to begin a process of learning to tolerate the flaws in your loved ones, write them down. Once the list is complete, place your name at the top of the list. Look at this list and think long and hard about what your wily brain is keeping from your awareness. Tell yourself that you love yourself, all of yourself, even the flawed parts. Then do the same for your family.
Look at their flaws again and this time, flip the trait upside down. Turn the trait into a positive. Whether you believe that the flaw belongs to your family member or to you, find a way to reframe it as a positive. This is the classic glass-half-full philosophy, and you'll need it in your long-term commitments. Look at these typical household gripes:
Flaw: Husband snoring
Positive Reframe: The sweet sound of a husband who is home in bed every night, not fighting in a war or being unfaithful.
Flaw: A stubborn kid
Positive Reframe: A child who owns her word "No" and will be fortified to stand up to negative peer pressure.
Flaw: A husband who won't do housework
Positive Reframe: A man who works hard outside and brings home a steady paycheck. A masculine man who is far from being a metrosexual.
Flaw: Addiction to computer
Positive Reframe: A homebody who likes to be near family.
The list can go on and on, but you get the picture. Now, having said everything I've said about flaw acceptance, there can be certain flaws that are so damaging to families that acceptance is not an option. Substance abuse, domestic violence, depression, and critical parenting are all systems that must be healed for the family to be healthy. But don't sweat the small stuff. Long-term love is not for the squeamish. It's for the tough-minded and the compassionate.
|Dr. Wendy Walsh holds a Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology and her area of interest is Attachment Theory, a psychological, evolutionary and ethological theory that provides a descriptive and explanatory framework for understanding interpersonal relationships between human beings. As a psychological assistant registered with the California Board of Psychology, Dr. Walsh has treated individuals, couples and families for a variety of mental health concerns including personality disorders, anger management, eating and substance disorders, and depression. Connect with Dr. Walsh on Facebook.|