Change Makes Waves In Family Interactions

Change. It happens. It happens all the time, right? Sometimes it just feels more momentous than others. I am in flux right now. So much so that I have been sort of paralyzed. Ever have that happen to you? I’ve felt stuck, in every sense of the word, but yesterday I somehow broke through all of that. Today I feel a bit like a butterfly. Change is good.

Let me back up a little. I haven’t been writing blog posts. I haven’t been able to sit down and write. I’ve had things to say. I’ve had stories to share, but I would glance over at my computer and just the act of standing up, walking over, turning it on, and sitting down to write seemed overwhelming. So I just didn’t do it. The same exact thing happened when I thought about painting.

So, what have I been doing for the last week? Don’t laugh, but I’ve been walking. A lot.

Change Makes Waves In Family Interactions
Yep. That’s me walking over 16,000 steps in a day.

I’ve been doing yoga too. I’ve been trying to eat well and get enough sleep. I’ve been taking care of myself. Like really taking care of myself. I even painted my toenails. Something I haven’t done in years.

Since the miscarriage I’ve had some family patterns of interaction (I’m talking family of origin type stuff) sort of pop up like they do sometimes. For some reason (maybe I am more sensitive?) they just seemed to present themselves and I could see them with my eyes wide open. I’ve started thinking about how I can’t say no well and how I am often kind of a doormat. I’ve been a little angry with myself too. I want to be more assertive and I want to feel good about having boundaries. Usually when I draw a line in the sand I just feel horrible guilt afterwards…forever. Seriously, 6 years later I will think about it and feel a wash of shame and anxiety. Even when I know my boundary was a healthy one my body still dives into fight or flight…sometimes even 6 years later when I am just thinking about it. Usually flight. My go-to move is avoidance. Or, even worse, I apologize, basically, for existing. It’s pretty pathetic, but to be fair, I am much better than I used to be so I know I am growing. It’s just been a slow process. Change usually is.

I’ve learned a lot about family dynamics through my education. I’ve even put what I have learned into practice and made some of my relationships much better, but there are always times when you feel vulnerable or scared and it’s easy to fall back into old, familiar patterns with people. It’s easy to feel like you don’t matter or are unseen and unheard. It’s easy to feel inadequate and small. That’s how I describe it. I told Jim, “I just feel small today.” It’s like being invisible when you don’t speak your truth, or have an opinion, or express how you really feel. There are a few people in my life who seem to trigger this feeling in me. They seems to remind me as often as possible that I am not enough and never will be enough. The message is subtle, but it’s there. I feel it with every interaction.

This is the legacy of growing up in a home with substance abuse. Low self-esteem runs rampant. Neglect can make you feel worthless for years to come. Plus, I feel my feelings and often I think I overcompensate in that department because I grew up surrounded by people who were doing everything they could to not feel their feelings. It’s a dance and when one partner is underfunctioning the other partner tends to overfunction. I am an overfunctioner in so many areas of my life. I am always worried about taking care of everyone emotionally (and often physically and financially) that I often forget to take care of myself.

This is what is changing. When I had the miscarriage I actually focused on my own emotional health. When Jim said, “So and So is upset that you didn’t call them and tell them before posting it on your blog.” I said, “Too bad. This is my pain. This is how I am dealing with it.” Seriously, I know my blog readers are empathic, caring, funny, supportive people. I knew I would get the support and love I needed from this community…and I did. The comments on the post about my miscarriage carried me through the hardest days (I am going to respond to every single one of them soon because I have so much gratitude for your kindness). In hindsight, I must have known exactly what I was doing when I made that choice. For once I chose not to “take care” of the feelings other people were having and chose to take care of my own feelings first. It’s not my normal mode of operation. So, when I broke the pattern I caused some waves.

Family members were quick to try and pull me back into the old pattern. They reminded me that I needed to take care of other people. That other people were grieving too. That’s when it hit me like a rock falling out of the sky. A Eureka moment: I am not responsible for other people’s feelings or behavior. I’m not. I’ve spent a lot of energy over my lifetime fussing over what other people were thinking and feeling and trying to smooth things over for them. It hasn’t gotten me anywhere. It’s just made me tired and angry. So, I am learning to let go of that “responsibility” because it wasn’t ever mine to begin with.

I am learning that I am enough and I don’t need anyone else to confirm that. I am allowed to have an opinion and disagree with people. That doesn’t make me a bad person. I am allowed to choose myself. That doesn’t make me a bad person either. I am learning that I am the one with the problem here. I have to let me be me and be OK with the fall out. I have to let my light shine and if it’s uncomfortable for other people, well, that’s not really any of my business. I am the one causing my own pain. I don’t have to look to others to define me or let them trigger feelings of inadequacy anymore. I’ve accomplished a lot. I’ve been through a lot. I am proud of who I am. I am not perfect, but I am strong, kind, smart, resilient, loving and hardworking. I am not “nobody” and I am not invisible. I am ready to let go of these stories I tell myself because they aren’t true.

I am not responsible for the feelings other people have. I have to stop overfunctioning because I am only inhibiting the growth of other people. I am not an expert on what they need or how they should live. It’s not my job to keep them from feeling sad, or angry, or frustrated, or lonely. I am not going to swoop in and save the day. Failure is an experience we all need to grow and so is feeling all of our feelings. It’s not my job to save them. It’s my job to save myself and to work towards being real and authentic and free. It’s my job to take responsibility for myself: My thoughts, my feelings, my behaviors. I can’t blame any of this on anyone else. I can change the dance at anytime just by changing the way I choose to interact with people. So I am dancing to my own rhythm as much as possible. It’s a process. I’ll still slip up and make mistakes, but I am on the road. I am taking steps in the right direction.

Have you ever made a change in the way you interacted with people? How did it go?


I’ve been debating whether or not to write about this or not. I think that was why I have felt blocked. I was trying to silence and censor my experience. I had a choice to make: I could write about it or I could keep it all a secret. Yesterday I said to myself, “Be honest. Tell your truth or close down the blog. It’s not worth having it if you’re too afraid to write what you want to write. Stop worrying about what people will think.” Secrets make me feel like I am suffocating. I grew up keeping secrets. I don’t want to live like that anymore.

I decided to write about it last night. I broke the block. I have to say I feel much better and I am pretty sure I am going to be able to paint today too. This is what happens when you make choices based on your own health and happiness versus worrying about what other people will think of you.


P.S. I’ve lost three pounds, and an inch and a half off my hips from taking care of myself for the last 10 days.

Change Makes Waves In Family Interactions.
When I measured my hips and realized I’d lost an inch and a half I am pretty sure I looked just like this. This is Tiny-Small when she opened a card from her Nonnie & Papa.


P.S.S. This book is really helping me make sense of things. You’ve probably read it, but if not you might want to check it out The Dance of Anger: A Woman’s Guide to Changing the Patterns of Intimate Relationships (totally an Amazon affiliate link).

P.S.S.S. My friend Molly Field grew up in a family with substance abuse too and we often compare and contrast the baggage we carry around because of it. She’s been an amazing support system and her post Cutting Off Is Never That Simple really resonated with me. If you struggle with self doubt and choosing your own peace of mind, you might want to check out her post too.


39 thoughts on “Change Makes Waves In Family Interactions”

  1. You are just so amazing. Your honesty is so freaking refreshing and affirming. Thank you so much for putting it all out there, Lillian. I feel stronger and renewed from this post too! And congratulations on the healthy lifestyle, weight loss and amazing self awareness… Hell Yes and BRAVO!

  2. I am so proud of you. It took me a looooong time to be able to shuck off worrying about everyone’s feelings all the time. Now? The expectation is set: I am a lunatic who will say the wrong thing at the wrong time. But I’m also funny, loyal, and my husband is a great cook (who will invite you over if we’re friends). Take it or leave it. Come to think of it, I think most of my friends are here for Joe’s cooking. Meh. What do I care. Smoked ribs for everyone. YOU ARE AWESOME!

    1. I need to embrace my inner lunatic and if people run screaming, well, at least I’ll still be happy, right? Thanks to you I’ve been thinking about ribs for almost 24 hours. Tell Joe I’m coming over even though I wasn’t invited. If only we could remove all of the states between here and Chicago.

  3. Lillian! This? This right here? I just don’t know where to start, what to say, or if I will ever stop typing once I start! Overfunctioning, and how you wrote it all out..thank you…for your honesty, for sharing and for letting us into your dome life. It is fabulous in here!!! Much love to you!

  4. I love you SO much.

    I’m currently working through a ridiculous amount of change. Within myself and externally, as well. And I’m doing it all for me. My job has caused my health to suffer more than any other stressful situation in my life ever has. My unhealthy weight and body insecurities have made me feel at the lowest of the lows. My home situation is a temporary one, so that’s changing too.

    Bring on all the change. And bring it all on for me. You inspire me, Lily. You really do. So thank you.

    1. I have given up two stressful jobs in my life. It was such a relief afterwards that I wondered why I waited so long. I am looking forward to seeing what comes next for you. I know even good change can be stressful and you have a lot all at once. I think it’s awesome that you are doing things for yourself.

  5. This post took courage and emotional strength, Lillian. One of my favorite books is Don Miguel Ruiz’s The Four Agreements. One is ‘don’t take anything personally’, because how others act/react is about them, not you. You can’t control how someone else feels, thinks or acts, only how you feel, think, act. (Which is more than enough to deal with, at times!) Making healthy changes and choosing to no longer be made to feel less because of someone else’s pain are positive steps. They may not be popular with those not used to interacting with you in this manner, but it’s up to them to adapt, adjust or get over it. Keep your head up and eyes forward – think of the legacy you want for Tiny Small – and you’ll be fine. Rooting for you #TeamLillian!

    1. The Four Agreements is a great book. I need to dig my copy out. I read it in my twenties, but I don’t think I was “awake” enough to really absorb it. Maybe now would be a good time to see what happens. I know I will get something different out of it at 38 than I did at 23.

      I think having Tiny-Small really changes my perspective. I don’t want this to be her experience too.

  6. inspiring. tr.ue. sounds so easy, is so hard. calling me to face myself. thank you. most of all thank you

    1. The hardest part is so often I think I have overcome something only to find myself facing it again. I think this type of recovery is cyclical, but maybe each go round we have more tools in our tool belt. I just keep trying to pay attention and learn and have patience with myself. Having patience with myself is probably the hardest part for me.

  7. First time here so I didn’t see what you were going through previously, but I do think that the blog community has nearly saved my life at times.
    Hoping for much peace and happiness for you. It sounds like you’ve gained a lot of clarity.

    1. The blog community has saved me too. I’ve forged friendships I wouldn’t have been able to make living in a rural area as a stay at home mom. It’s been a wonderful experience.

  8. You are amazing. Simply amazing.

    You may find some use out of the blog Captain Awkward who frequently dishes advice on boundary setting and not managing other people’s emotions. I know I have.

    Love to you.

    1. Thank you for introducing me to Captain Awkward. I went straight there last night and did some reading. It’s a great resource and plus “Captain Awkward” is such a great name. I felt right at home.

      1. I’m so glad! I found them just a couple of days ago myself and have been working my way through the archives of articles that sound like they may apply to my current situation.


  9. Lillian, you do my heart such good. Thank you for all you live, learn and share. I am so much like you, it’s scary. So to reD your thoughts, feelings, it’s as if I’m reading my own words. You think of things I haven’t thought of, it clicks a light on within me. Thank you for that. (((huge Hug)))

    1. I think a lot of women go through this. It’s how we were raised. I can remember being told “Children should be seen and not heard” and then our mothers were always taking care of everyone. It’s hard sometimes to break out of the old patterns, but so worth it when we do. I see people living in that kind of freedom and I want what they have! Thanks for reading my blog and commenting.

  10. OMG Lillian. You just described me. I have to admit I broke down in tears (in fact I tearing up writing this. I come from a family with alcohol abuse and mental illness that still goes on today. I was always told I wasn’t good enough, and I was and still am supposed to fall in line with the rest of the family. My brother and sister chose to follow in my mum and dad’s footsteps and both have drinking problems. I stopped drinking completely in 1993 (yes I remember the year).
    I suffer from bi-polar disease and extreme anxiety, for which I take a butt load of pills. I know that’s not my family’s fault as mental illness is a heredity thing. All my family suffer from it in some form or another but I’m the only one getting help. Both the not drinking and getting help makes me weak in their eyes. I’ve always been the one with something wrong with me because I don’t follow in their footsteps.
    To this day I still struggle with emotional issues from it all. Through psychiatric help I have resolved many of them, but that feeling of being ‘small’ always reappears when I’m with them. Maybe that’s why I stay away from them all as much as possible. That pisses them off to (except my brother who could care less about anyone except his own immediate family, although he’s mentally abused his own kids).
    So reading your column struck a nerve as I sit alone in our (my husband and my) second home up north of us, three hours away. I am hear for other reasons (I’m in a couple of galleries up here and have a better studio here), but a lot of it is to get away from the town where we all live. To be able to clear my head and look after me (and the dog). So don’t feel alone in what you are going through. Others of us have experienced (or should I just say “still are”) the same issues…

    1. Stephanie, I understand what you mean about feeling like something is wrong with you because you don’t engage in the same behaviors your family does. I feel like that so often. I am the odd man out. I always have to remind myself that I am not “bad” because I don’t smoke or do drugs or drink excessively. It’s so messed up, but it really makes you feel so alone sometimes. I’ve always struggled with fitting in somewhere. I am sure that stems from feeling like I don’t even fit in with my family very well. I am also the only person in my family to go to college which makes me feel different too. It’s tough. I think getting help shows so much strength and having a second home to retreat to and regroup sounds wonderful. It sounds like you really know what you need to do to take care of yourself. I find that so empowering. Thank you for sharing your story. I think the bigger we can make our support network the better. Knowing I am not the only one struggling with these issues makes a huge difference to me. It makes me feel brave. Thank you!

  11. Your writing is like therapy for me sometimes! Seriously, most of what you wrote describes me as well. I don’t know if it’s my age or my place in the world right now, but I feel like I’ve had more clarity about what is and isn’t my responsibility lately. Ahhh! Thanks for writing! Also, good job on taking care of yourself – feeling better feels so…good!

    1. Thank you so much, Tammi. Writing feels like therapy to me. I am so glad my words resonated with you. I feel like my age has a lot to do with this shift too. Feeling better does feel so good. I am going to make that my new mantra so I can stay on this path!

  12. Hi Lillian,

    Change always excites me…proves that I’m alive, lol! Great post here. I’m so used to running into resistance from da fam, that I’ve becoming accepting of massive change in all parts of my life. Not all the time, but most of the time.


  13. Thank you Lillian for being open and honest about your life and feelings. I am also one of those that grew up in a home that had some form of abuse (alcohol, mental, physical, etc..) and because of that, I always felt useless. As I have grown older, my thoughts on life and self improvement have changed. Fourteen years ago I went through somewhat the same thing you are going through now. When my kids left the house, I decided it was about time that I did what I wanted, take care of my needs instead of always being the one to take care of others first. I still have a problem not thinking of others needs (was raised the woman takes care of others first) and feelings but I’m still working on that. I first had to learn to love myself and get over the past pain and failures. Being the oldest, I have been put in the “peacekeepers” roll which has not helped me when it comes to the “what about me” stage. But I have a new insight on life and how I want to live it compared to when I was younger.
    I will tell you this, when you start changing (for the better of yourself), people will challenge you, they will push you and question you (because this is not the you they know). Stand your ground! Don’t give in! It will be very hard and you will doubt yourself (and that’s natural) but as long as you are faithful to yourself and your feelings, it will all pass. People will start seeing the new you and start coming around to you. You are a very intelligent and caring person. Let the real you shine through! I can’t wait see it!
    I know, there is a lot of rambling going on in this post. My mind is going in all different directions this morning and all of it is screaming to be let out. So, hopefully I made some sense here. LoL
    I know I haven’t really said it but I love your blog! I laugh, cry, giggle and am in awe at what you write. Even though we are cousin, we didn’t grow up anywhere near eachother (as you know) but when I read your blogs, it helps me to not only know you but know that there is someone else out there that is going through either what I have gone through or what I am going through. Thank you!

    1. I really appreciate this comment, April! I feel more confident. I really relate to what you said about being the oldest. I think that adds to our sense of responsibility. I know my sister doesn’t really worry about any of the stuff I do!

      P.S. I didn’t think you rambled at all.

  14. Hey Lillian
    This was an amazing post..thank you for being so transparent about your life and your struggles. There are so many different things you said throughout that really resonated with me. I too know that feels like when the thought of even doing one simple thing, like trying to write a blog post feels overwhelming. I too have many issues with family, guilt and the like, and like you said, we have to realize we can’t take on the responsibility of other people’s feelings,happiness,etc..

    It can be tough though..guilt can be very insidious and hard to shake even if we KNOW we should not feel guilty. The best we can do is just keep reminding ourselves of that, and over time, it will lessen.

    1. I visited your blog (and will be back) and I can see that you have been diving into similar topics. Guilt really is tough and you are so right. I think it takes practice to get rid of that guilt, even when you know there is no reason to feel guilty.

  15. First off, thanks for stopping by my blog yesterday. I love when people discover me, because then I get to discover them too. Your art is wonderful, so vibrant and happy. I love all the color! This post is a good one for any woman who needs a bit of a boost to break out of whatever situation is keeping her confined, mentally. Woman carry guilt so well, it’s what we do best.

  16. Just wanted to let you know I’ve been praying for you. Your blog is one of 2 that I receive emails alerting me to new posts. I read them all on my phone and can’t comment. You are an amazingly strong, wonderful woman. I am so glad you came to this realization about pleasing people and taking care of their feelings. It is your grief, and you need to take care of you. Life will be so different for you now. Better.

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