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January 31, 2017

Sharing DNA does Not Make Someone Family.

“No matter what I do, I am never going to be good enough for them,” I say via text to my best friend of 20 years.

“Come home and be with the family that chose you instead,” he replied.

“I wish it were that easy,” I said, while trying to suck in enough oxygen to keep my sobs quiet and not further annoy my family with my weeping.

“It is,” he said. But in that hotel room, a million miles from home, I couldn’t see how.

We have all heard the cliché a million times:

“Blood is thicker than water.”

Sometimes we hear it as an offhanded remark because someone we know chose the opinion of a friend over a family member. Sometimes we visit family and we hear it slung at us because we make the mistake of alluding to wishing to be in the company of someone that we aren’t related to. We hear it on TV. We hear it from a person talking on their phone while standing next to us in line at the airport. We hear it on the radio. We all hear it all the damn time.

Here’s the thing….

It is bullsh*t.

Sometimes, we share DNA with people that aren’t very nice to us. And notice, I worded that very carefully. They aren’t very nice to us. This fact does not necessarily mean they are bad people, it just means they are bad for us, in particular. Coming to this realization is tough, especially when we don’t figure that out until really late in life.

It can be even tougher to realize when we have slid into the human spiral of self blame and self doubt. These thoughts, feelings, and emotions can be our own worst enemies. They can lead even the most emotionally healthy people into thinking things like, “What the hell is wrong with me that my own family doesn’t love me?” and, “Why am I not good enough?” These questions and emotions hold us back and keep us from reaching our true potential. Not just in this situation but in any situation.

We all have rights. Basic, fundamental human rights. Sharing DNA with someone does not give them the right to negate your rights. It does not give anyone the right to speak to us poorly. It does not give anyone the right to treat us in a disrespectful manner. Even if there is history, if someone chooses to be in our presence, we deserve to be treated respectfully.

The folks that repeat that ridiculous cliché all the time? They are probably the same a**holes that are treating their own family members like crap—and using that line to justify why the victims of their emotional abuse should stick around for more of it.

But we shouldn’t stick around for it.

And we shouldn’t blame ourselves. Any relationship can be bad for us, including relationships where we share DNA with the other person. In fact, sometimes, these relationships can be the most detrimental to a person. Family of origin issues can be a real bitch to get away from. Thats a huge reason why the mental health field has exploded. It can be incredibly difficult to shake feelings of guilt, doubt, and shame when they are rooted within our own family. Frequently, we can’t do it alone and in many cases, we shouldn’t try.

I’ve heard people say, “Well, where will your ‘friends’ be when you truly need them?” That answer is pretty simple, actually. For me, I know where they will be because they have been there for me when I truly needed them. The previously aforementioned best friend of 20 years…he was the only one I had through my separation, my divorce, my first home purchase and my remarriage. He listened to me for hours and hours and hours. Not to say our relationship is perfect though. We bicker and we disagree. But, in 20 years, he has actually yelled at me exactly one time and he has never turned me away when I was crying. It is not perfect, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Family is what we make it. It is not necessarily just the people that gave us life or share DNA with us. Family is the people that stand with us through absolutely everything without flinching. Family is the people that can see the good in us, when we can’t see the good in ourselves. They are the people that pick us up, wipe our tears and say, “You know the right answer, even if you can’t see it right now. Let me help you find it.”

Don’t allow yourself to be emotionally abused by anyone. We should be kind to ourselves, because we deserve it. Let’s redefine what the word “family” means to us and then live that definition. And then pay it forward. Be family to someone that needs a family. The reward is immeasurable.

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Author: Julie Livingston

Image: Courtesy of Author

Editor: Travis May

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