Family Issues – a Lesson in Empathy

sad childIf your parents and family have always surrounded you with love, supported and shown interest in the person you are and want to be (and not the one they’d like you to be), that’s great. Nevertheless, you’re more than likely in the minority.

Family issues vary as each and every family has its own. Sometimes it’s a dirty secret which takes the form of the brother, who with all the opportunities he had, became a no-good sponge, forever dependent on the parents. Another time it’s religious disagreements between the parents wanting their child to follow a religion while he or she is an incorrigible atheist (or the other way round). Last but not least, there are the unspoken issues of the seemingly functional families that no one wants ever to surface (ask Norman Bates). The point is, we all have our dirty family secrets, our grudges and disagreements. And yet, it doesn’t seem like it teaches people any empathy regarding such issues.

Obviously there are expectations of how families should (appear to) be. You should be nice to your folks and co, you should keep in touch with them, you should be excited to see them when you didn’t for a long time. If for whatever reasons you don’t comply with the should’s, people start to question you and assume that there’s something wrong with you. Asking a deeper question and wondering whether maybe there’s something wrong with the other side isn’t rewarding for most. For how will you gossip about someone’s family you don’t know? It’s much easier to label the person you know as weird and spread the word. At the same time there may be plenty of reasons why someone doesn’t want to tell you the details of their familial relationships and gives you a blanket answer such as “we don’t get on well”. The first explanation is usually – you’re just not important enough in their life and don’t deserve to know more.

It’s not just about not telling those who don’t matter, however, but most of those who matter too. People often get uncomfortable with the truth. Tell them about a running drinking habit in the family and how you’re scared that you’ll develop it one day. Try to confide in someone years of psychological abuse. I’m not even talking here about those whose scars are so deep they’ll never recover after what’s been done to them. Others don’t want to know because it makes them uncomfortable but if someone’s issues make you uncomfortable, have you ever thought how uncomfortable they make the person who’s experiencing them feel?

The feeling of being uncomfortable and the urge of others to silence you is one thing but the lack of sensitivity is another. When you go through the difficult decision of confiding in someone, their answer is often dismissive. Your dad’s been emotionally and physically absent from your life? Bitch, please, think about all all these kids in India who have their limbs cut off so that they make better beggars! Functional alcoholism? What’s that? My other friend had her biological father hitting her and killing cigarettes on her, now, that’s a story! We forget that the same events can affect other people more than other. We also never remember that even though there’s always someone who’s worse off, it’s not a reason to deny someone else the right to share their own pain. We wouldn’t like the same to happen to us when talking about our problems, now, would we?

Unfortunately, this is exactly the sort of relationships we have these days. We’re comfortable with nice and easy. Maybe we can handle a friend telling us about a break-up but only as long as they don’t dwell on it too much. Don’t tell me about your childhood traumas, though. Nobody has time for that! I’m not saying here that we should share our emotional depths with everyone because oversharing is oversharing but is there really such a thing as oversharing with friends? Last but not least, if we’re acquaintances can we maybe sometimes give people the benefit of the doubt and understand that we’re all like icebergs rather than judge them?

The comments section is all yours, Rinsers. Why are we so harsh towards others? Why can’t we listen to someone’s story and why do we want to silence the voices of suffering?


  1. Not everyone wants to be reminded of the pain they have suffered in their own life never mind what you may have been going through. Often times we are harsh because we ourselves are trying to cover up what ever pain we are enduring. You are correct if we tell others our problems they say we have issues or as you put it …oversharing. Which is why a very good friend a friend that is like a sister or brother from another mother would never treat you harshly when you open up about your background.


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