Families are complicated. Especially when something runs amuck. Marriages, divorces, births, illness, deaths all test the strength of genetic bonds, for better and often times worse.
Believers in Newton (Sir Isaac, not Sir Fig–even though fruit-filled cookies can be a huge help when relations start to spin) realize that every action causes an equal and opposite reaction. The renowned mathematician’s work proved this very dynamic. But when it comes to families in crisis, Newton’s third law of motion doesn’t really apply. Every action will likely cause many reactions, not equal by any stretch. Nor neat or linear or remotely logical. Wait, everything is based in science you say? Completely understand where you’re coming from, so like any good science nerd, I tested my hypothesis. Identified a control group, my family (forgive me) and graphed each relation’s response to trauma and found that the written results looked more like a Lite-Brite Screen then a bell curve of averages.
Through this litmus test I was reminded of the variety of possible coping mechanisms employed by my tribe and although we share DNA, when it comes to handling change and stress we are as different as we are alike. And when the eye of the household storm hit everyone reacted in the manner that they were best equipped.
Some jumped into action, intently focused on resolving the issues at hand. Others, hung back and worked quietly behind the scenes. The remaining, fell somewhere in between. Interesting observations, however made within the parameters of my own genetic petrie dish. So I started thinking. Hard. Wondered if other family units had similar dynamics. Curiosity is rumored to be the demise of many cats but in my mind it’s better to climb out on the wing then be strapped inside, watching from behind an oval piece of glass. So I looked around. Observed. Listened and learned a couple of things about families and pending disaster.
As a rule, there is at least one member who clings to the hard facts. Siting the latest medical studies, discussing resolutions with no hint of attachment. Appearing, at least on the surface, to lack compassion or kindness. Then there are the criers, relatives who can’t help but ball. Ones who are hard-wired to problem solve step up and attack the dilemma head on. Don’t forget the glaciers, relatives who freeze on spot as if hit by a sudden ice storm. Typically someone gets angry. While others default to being dazed, completely lost in thought. You can count on a fair amount of denial. Teenage representatives of the gene pool may choose to avoid or root themselves close to home. Others pray, join support groups and busy themselves. Nurtures tend to commandeer the family’s wellness action plan.
As scattered and incoherent as these reactions appear, each one was designed to play a necessary role. The problem solvers, the “Action Jackson’s” in our camps supply the momentum to steer the masses in a positive direction while tirelessly searching for life changing alternatives. As useless as crying hysterically may seem, it gives the whole group a much needed outlet. Particularly for personality types who find it difficult to outwardly express emotions. The ice blocks are usually the best strategists. Cool, steadfast, they have the focus to explore every angle and alternative to the “nth” degree. Without emotion. Incredibly important when it comes to resolving life and death situations.
Although “deny” is generally considered a four letter word, I suspect there’s a more productive interpretation of the term. Perhaps it’s a defense measure deflecting pain capable of crushing a sensitive member’s spirit. Avoiding issues is also coined a negative. But with undeveloped coping skills doesn’t it seem logical for teens to huddle in a safety net of like minded friends? Support groups can provide a place to recharge, bringing balance and a clear head back to the family unit. Praying never hurts, miracles occur more often than you think. And the busybody personalities who run errands, shuttle to doctors, stores, school and sports easily fill in all the leftover gaps.
Can you imagine if we all responded to stress in the same way? Burst into hysterics, analyzed with no emotion, or became caught up in the droves of information on the internet. What if everyone of our relatives ran away or even worse stayed home and drove one another completely mad? Double, tripled and quadrupled down on the errands. Cooked or sat on the sidelines, our entire geno pool together, cheek to cheek, warming the bench. Honestly how well would any of these situations benefit the best interests and the preservation of our beloved family units?
We all have personalities designed especially for us. Unique skills, points of view and strengths we bring to our tribe. So when the crisis sirens sound, do what comes natural and resist the urge to pass judgement on the people you choose to keep close. They are adding value, equal to your own, different yet valid and necessary. Newton was right after all. Equal and opposite. Remember, to get through this life it takes an extended village.
E.L. Chappel author of Risk/Spirit Dance/Storm Chasers
Envisioning my family if everyone was exactly like me…ugh!
aka The Glamorous Wife