Re-Framing Our Relationships

Renate fell in love with Tony, but no one else in her family liked him. At first she thought they would embrace Tony like she did. What was not to like about him? He was a handsome, professional and went to the same church as Renate. He managed his money well and was good with children–and oh, her dog even loved him. Renate was shocked from the coldness of her narc mom when she introduced Tony to the family. Her mother had been divorced from Renate’s dad for two decades and showed no interest in marrying again. She thought her mother would love to have a man in the family again, but Renate’s mom and sisters all started talking about Tony the minute he left the room.

It took three visits before Renate discovered what her mother hated about Tony. He was not a yes man. He had a mind of his own and was not planning to live up to her narc mother’s expectations. Renate found herself in an awkward position. She had to choose between her future husband and her mother. After spending a few weeks with her counselor, Renate chose Tony. This caused many phone calls from her two sisters and lots of drama. She began to realize her mother did not have her best interest at heart and her sisters were flying monkeys. It was time for Renate to re-frame her relationships.

In a situation like Renate’s, many of us were taught to stick with family because “blood is thicker than water,” but what about the times when dysfunctional family members show us anything but love? How long should we stick it out? Most of us stick it out far too long because we are hoping for what we wish we had. Many of us consider re-framing our relationships as the last resort before crazy, but we could save ourselves a lot of stress if we did it logically before we reached an emotional crisis.

Here are Five Reasons to Re-Frame Our Relationships:

1. We Need to Stop Looking for Love in All the Wrong Places

Despite tense family gatherings and humiliating abuse, most of us crave the love we dreamed of having with our parents and siblings at one time. This fantasy keeps us going back again and again for more punishment. Just as we will never be able to get a can of pop out of a bubble gum machine, we will never get the love we want from a narc. The idea is ludicrous. Everyone knows it’s impossible no matter how many quarters you put in, but when it comes to family dynamics we seem to have lost our sense of logic. Trying to get love from people who are void of it is like trying to get pop from a bubble gum machine.

Our childhood biases often keep us from seeing through the fake smiles and lying facades of relatives who manipulate us into picking up the tab or goad us into voting for their candidate. Sometimes they even ask us to help them scapegoat another family member. If we fail to re-frame our relationships, we might be in danger of becoming a flying monkey ourselves–unless we can stay alert to the behavior of others.

When people show you who they are—believe them the first time.
–Maya Angelou

2. Narcissism Forces Us to Analyze Our Relationships

For Christians who wonder if it’s okay to re-frame our families, remember Jesus taught us how to re-frame our family relationships when he asked,

“Who are my mother and brothers? He who does the will of my father in heaven.”

What would happen if we took an unbiased view of our relatives? What if we screened them like we do strangers? One way to do this is to draw three concentric circles. In the middle circle write out the names of people who have proven to their trustworthiness to you. In the next circle outside of that one, add the people you believe you can trust, but are not proven. Then in the outer circle, write the names of people who have broken your trust.

Keep these circles in mind with every family gathering, phone call and visit. Adjust when it becomes obvious someone needs to be moved into a new category. On days when you feel vulnerable, choose to only spend time with your inner circle. If someone is in your outer circle, try to keep them at a distance or go no contact if necessary.

3. Forgiveness is NOT an Issue of Forgetting

Abusers always want us to forget so they can continue abusing us. When we not only re-frame our relationships, but when we re-frame our understanding of forgiveness, we see how the narcs use the false concepts of forgiveness to hurt us again.

The narc might accuse you of not forgiving and blame you for the family splitting up because you refused to attend a family dinner, but the narc is responsible for the rift. The narc is the one who tore the family apart with their manipulation, lies and scapegoating. Your reaction to this abuse is simply another symptom of the narc’s inability to have functional relationships.  Think of all the people the narc can’t stand or get along with and lucky you, you are now on that list—but this is a good thing.

We can forgive and even accept the apology we never got, but we can’t reconcile and meet with our abusers and pretend like nothing happened. When family members abuse us and refuse to do their part to restore what they broke, we have no choice but to re-frame and move these relationships to our outer circle.

4. We Can’t Glue Our Families Back Together

If your family has been torn apart by narcissism, there’s not much you can do to fix the family except be a beacon of hope for anyone who wants to wake up, but don’t count on that being the narc. The narc won’t change. I didn’t say he can’t change—all things are possible with God, but most narcs won’t change because they don’t think they are doing anything wrong. After all in the narc’s book, it is your own fault he had to lie about you. You and I know better, but the narc is caught up in self-deception.

If we could see each other’s motives, narc-led families would completely disintegrate. Many families are held together by cobwebs of lies and it’s only a matter of time before the wind blows it apart. Disintegration is the opposite of integration. The reason we fail to integrate our family conflicts is because narcs lack integrity. Integrity is the glue of honesty and reliability for which there is no substitute.

When someone is backstabbing and two faced, you can’t count on which way they will act tomorrow. The only safe course is to block all liars and cheaters from your feed and not give them access to your life. When you re-frame your relationships, make sure people pass the integrity test.

5. We Can Re-Frame Good Relationships Too

Re-framing relationships takes time. Your sister will always be your sister, but is she safe enough to be your go to confident if she’s broken your trust? Your mother will always be your mom and you might have many great childhood memories, but unless she’s willing to accept you as yourself, you can’t hang out with her and pretend to be someone you’re not.

The truth about such relatives and their lack of integrity is a painful discovery, but unless we can re-frame the level of importance these people have in our lives, we will continue to suffer. The good news is these concentric circles can go both ways. You can fill up your inner circle with trustworthy individuals. Chances are you might know someone right now who can be moved to the center, but if not don’t despair, just keep your eyes open to fill those spaces. One way to do this is to be a trustworthy person who is there for others like you would like people to be for you.

Re-framing our toxic relationships is painful process, but re-framing our worthy friends can be comforting and inspiring. It takes time to build up a friendship, but when we find the rare soul who accepts us just as we are and treats us with respect, we can re-frame these wonderful people to our most inner circle and the status of family.