Consult a Counsellor: Striving for honesty in family relationships

I am not sure what to do. Some of my family members seem to have a lot of difficulty just being open and honest with me...

I am not sure what to do. Some of my family members seem to have a lot of difficulty just being open and honest with me. I do not think that they are trying to be mean but it feels hurtful and disrespectful. It makes our interactions uncomfortable and I am not sure what I can do to change this dynamic. The situations themselves are not such a big deal and I would rather they would just be straight up with me rather than skirt around the issue or be dishonest. When I try to bring it up to address it directly it often makes things worse than better. Oftentimes it turns into an even bigger mess and maybe I should just be quiet and pretend it is all okay. However that does not feel so good either. The situation is damaging our relationships and I desperately wish things could be different. Help!

I am sorry to hear that things are so difficult for you right now. Family relationships can be tricky to navigate at the best of times. It is always that much more difficult when you do not feel that you can have as close a relationship as you would like.

Honesty and openness in relationships is an important thing. It is the basis on which trust and closeness is built. Without that, the vulnerability that is inherent in close relationships is threatened and the relationships suffer because it is no longer emotionally safe to be that close. Family relationships that threaten your vulnerability likely feel like a betrayal and damage your ability to trust the relationships in the ways that you want to.

There are many reasons people are not open and honest in their interactions with each other. In the end, most of those reasons centre around avoiding dealing with something that is anticipated to be unpleasant. Very often, in the situation that you describe, it is rare that individuals are being deliberately malicious. Often they are surprised and upset to hear how you feel. Unfortunately, regardless of whether their lack of openness and honesty is about trying to avoid conflict, trying to avoid upsetting someone, or trying to avoid some other anticipated outcome, it is a bit of a double-edged sword. Sometimes the avoidance works. Yet, often the pain created by that avoidance when it becomes apparent is greater than the pain that would have been created by dealing with the situation directly itself. Brown and Levision’s work on Politeness Theory offers some interesting insights on this dynamic and a primer on the theory can be found easily by searching for more information on the web.

In the end, there are no easy answers to how you should deal with this. Ultimately you cannot control the choices that your other family members are making about how they choose to communicate with you. They have their own reasons for what they are doing, and in the absence of any feedback and dialogue about what those reasons are it is really hard to address them effectively.

You can, however, control the choices that you are making and the ways that you are engaging with your family members in this dynamic. Make sure that you are not feeding it by making it difficult, (through your actions, words or reactions), for them to be open and honest with you. Let them know how you feel, what your hopes and wishes are and seek some feedback from them about how they are experiencing the interactions. Try to avoid blame, criticism or conclusions about their actions and intentions. Focus instead on how you are experiencing the interactions and how you would like things to be different. Be curious about what is going on for them and model how you want them to be with you by letting them know what is going on for you in as open, honest and non-threatening a way as possible.

In the end, even when you do this well, it may not effect very much change. Family dynamics and approaches to dealing with conflict or perceived conflict are strongly established patterns that are not easily disrupted. However, regardless of the outcome, (which you cannot control), if you have let people know how you feel in a constructive way, if you have been open to understanding what is going on for the individuals on the other side of the interaction, and you have invited them to participate in the relationship with you in a different way, there is not much more that you can ask of yourself.

To ask a question of the counsellors, for a response in future columns, e-mail  info@pacifictherapy.ca. Consult a Counsellor is provided by registered clinical counsellors Nancy Bock, Diane Davies Leslie Wells, Andrew Lochhead, Sara-Lynn Kang and Carolyn Howard at Pacific Therapy & Consulting inc. It appears every second Thursday in the Record.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Courtenay Nissan’s Matthew Bourassa, Geoff Piper and Sean LaFleur join YANA’s Ashley Smith, Kelly Rusk and Lisa Wilcox for the 4x4x48 event to raise funds. Photo by Mike Chouinard
Courtenay Nissan eats and runs for YANA

Dealership realized non-profit groups need new ways to raise funds during COVID

Rev. Sulin Milne at St. Peter’s Anglican Church in Comox is part of those helping distribute food to those in need within the town. Photo by Jim Peacock
Comox church serving the community with food through COVID-19

“We knew there were so many people who were facing economic challenges …”

Cole Moore with one of his sisters, Jasmin Moore. Photo supplied
Courtenay man looks to brain surgery for second chance

Cole Moore’s sister sets up GoFundMe to help father looking after brother

Comox Valley RCMP had access to 20 Street blocked off between Cousins and Choquette avenues as they conducted a raid of a house on the block. Photo by Terry Farrell
Nineteen people arrested, charges expected in Courtenay house raid

Investigators are continuing to comb through evidence seized

Demonstrators gathered Friday, March 5 at the Courtenay Court House, demanding protection of old-growth forests. Scott Stanfield photo
Concerned citizens march in Courtenay in name of old-growth rainforests

The Comox Valley is one of the B.C. communities engaged in mobilization… Continue reading

The James C Richardson Pipe Band marches in a Remembrance Day parade on Nov. 11, 2019 in Chilliwack. Wednesday, March 10 is International Bagpipe Day. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress file)
Unofficial holidays: Here’s what people are celebrating for the week of March 7 to 13

International Bagpipe Day, Wash Your Nose Day and Kidney Day are all coming up this week

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

The Conservation Officers Service is warning aquarium users after invasive and potentially destructive mussels were found in moss balls from a pet store. (BC Conservation Officers Service/Facebook)
Aquarium users in B.C. warned after invasive mussels found at pet store

Conservation officers were told the mussels after found in a moss ball from a Terrace pet store.

Hockey hall-of-fame legend Wayne Gretzky, right, watches the casket of his father, Walter Gretzky, as it is carried from the church during a funeral service in Brantford, Ont., Saturday, March 6, 2021. HE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Walter Gretzky remembered as a man with a ‘heart of gold’ at funeral

The famous hockey father died Thursday at age 82 after battling Parkinson’s disease

Donald Alan Sweet was once an all star CFL kicker who played for the Montreal Alouettes and Montreal Concordes over a 13-year career. Photo courtesy of Mission RCMP.
Retired B.C. teacher and star CFL kicker charged for assault, sexual crimes against former students

Donald Sweet taught in Mission School District for 10 years, investigators seek further witnesses

(Black Press Media files)
Medicine gardens help Victoria’s Indigenous kids in care stay culturally connected

Traditional plants brought to the homes of Indigenous kids amid the COVID-19 pandemic

During a press event on March 6, Const. Alex Berube, media relations officer for the West Shore RCMP, addressed a deadly shooting that occurred in Metchosin the night before. (Devon Bidal/News Staff)
One man shot dead in ‘targeted incident’ in Metchosin

Highway 14 reopens following multi-hour closure for investigation

Personal protective equipment is seen in the COVID-19 intensive care unit at St. Paul’s hospital in downtown Vancouver. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
$16.9 million invested to improve worker safety, strengthen B.C.’s food supply chain

Money to be used for social distancing, personal protective equipment, cleaning, and air circulation

More than ever before, as pandemic conditions persist, the threat of data breaches and cyberattacks continues to grow, according to SFU professor Michael Parent. (Pixabay photo)
SFU expert unveils 5 ways the COVID-19 pandemic has forever changed cybersecurity

Recognizing these changes is the first in a series of steps to mitigate them once the pandemic ends, and before the next: Michael Parent

Most Read