When family members are draining

Because it’s summer time in the Northern Hemisphere, I’ve gotten to see or interact with a number of missionaries who are “back home” visiting family, friends, and supporters.

What got me reflecting on today’s topic is that three of them have family members who are difficult. Very difficult. While I could offer an arm chair diagnosis of personality disorders and mental health issues, that’s not really the point.

Whether a label exits or not, being around parents and having precious time in person off the field “stolen” because of behavior that is seriously manipulative or disrespectful to any personal boundaries is hard.

This is not a post with three simple steps, though I do have a few tips.

First of all, I’m sorry. If you have difficult family members, so much is out of your control. Good friends and other family will see how you try to honor them, love them, and not have your buttons pushed by them. Years ago I picked up a book because of the title.

Working With You is Killing Me: Freeing Yourself from Emotional Traps at Work by Katherine Crowley and Kathi Elster Kathi Elster.

Isn’t that the best title?! Working With You is Killing Me.


But as a follower of Christ, what can I do . . . to NOT have it kill me?!

If you’ve got a difficult family member, this might be a good book to get and read. The fact that it’s actually a “business” book is helpful because it provides you with more ability to reflect on your own situation with a bit of detached distance.

In essence, the authors present a four step process when you are “hooked” by a comment or interaction:

1—Unhook physically

2—Unhook mentally

3—Unhook verbally

4—Unhook with a business tool

The first two steps, unhooking physically and mentally, help you release negative emotions and calm down your system. They create the space for you to hear the Holy Spirit. Of course God is always with us, but sometimes we are so hooked, we can’t sense God’s presence. Thus, the need to unhook. The second two steps, unhooking verbally and with a business tool, involve taking actions to change your experience.

You might wonder what a business tool is. Since the context is work, it might be sending a follow-up email. So, with a family member, it could be an email or a text to all of your siblings and copying your mom. In the email you share what you talked about with your mom, so your mom knows that she can’t use the conversation to pit you against a sibling with her version.

The book goes into so much more detail and unpacks these four steps in such a way that you think, “It’s won’t be perfect, but it sure can be better for me than it currently is.”

As many of my friends will board planes and fly back to places that feel more familiar and comfortable than being with certain family members, I’m thinking of others, like you, who are in similar situations. It’s hard to have these conversations in public spaces like this. But know that you are not alone. And that God sees and is proud of you for all the times you restrained yourself.

Using the language of the book, it’s as we unhook from family or situations and hook ourselves more and more to Jesus that true freedom and growth arises.

It’s not easy. But it is possible.

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Amy Young

Life enthusiast. Author. Sports lover. Jesus follower. Equipper of cross-cultural worker. Amy is the founder of Global Trellis, co-founder of Velvet Ashes, hosts reading challenges at The Messy Middle, and is the author of five books (Looming TransitionsLove, AmyEnjoying NewslettersGetting Started, and Connected.)

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