February 27, 2020

Dealing with a Dysfunctional Family, Harry & Meghan-Style.

When Prince Harry and Meghan Markle announced that they would be separating (individuating) from the Royal Family, I was not shocked but inspired by their courageous choice.

They are modeling an act of bravery where they are showing up for themselves both as individuals and as a family while creating new avenues toward being able to achieve what they desire based on their values.

The system they are a part of clearly does not serve them as individuals or as a new family. Choosing to individuate is setting the stage for them to have a life on their terms while not being beholden on others who aren’t honoring their emotional needs.

In explaining individuation, I often use a self-created metaphor about creating your own dance floor, and I think this applies to what Meghan and Harry are demonstrating.

As children, we are born into a dance floor where we have little control or choice in where we are. We often don’t have the opportunity to challenge the dynamics of the dance floor and have to go along with how it operates. We often can hate the music, the people on the dance floor, and the overall vibe; however, as children, we don’t have the skills to challenge the dance floor or to make it a representation of us. We are often restrained by these dance floors, while just finding ways to survive.

As adults, however, we have the opportunity to create a thriving dance floor that serves and represents our emotional and physical needs. We might not be aware that we have this opportunity—however, we do.

We become the owners of our dance floors, and it is we who take charge in all ways. We are the ones deciding who’s allowed on our dance floor and what music is played while making it a space that supports our emotional and physical needs.

When we choose to create a dance floor that genuinely serves us and all the things we need, we are not only advocating for ourselves, but we are rewriting our story—and nothing is more empowering than this.

As a therapist, I have worked hard at creating my own dance floor with the people and beliefs which serve and represent me best. I have had to reconcile much of what has been on my former dance floor, knowing that although it may not have supported me entirely, it did show me how I desired to individuate.

Individuation is not a dialogue in mainstream culture; however, it’s important for us to talk about and understand so that we can empower ourselves to not be a part of any toxic system, and sometimes that includes our family.

I’m not saying we can’t have a dance floor with our families on it, but often as we individuate, we see how important boundaries are in sustaining our dance floor. Once we know what boundaries we need, we are usually happier knowing where our power lies, while being able to accept what we can’t control.

Some people see individuation as an act of selfishness. We can see this in place with Meghan and Harry and how others are villainizing them. Whenever someone chooses to individuate, they often are met with criticism; however, this to me further validates that they were not getting their emotional needs met in the first place.

In my experience, it is the brave ones who choose to individuate who are frequently shamed, shunned, and scapegoated. In therapeutic terms, this is explained as being the “identified patient.” An identified patient becomes the scapegoat of the family and is seen as the sick one, when in truth, they are most likely the healthiest. Often families that have high levels of dysfunction will target the identified patient to avoid taking accountability for creating and maintaining such dysfunction.

From my observations, it seems to me that Meghan has become the identified patient of the Royal Family. Her desire to question the status quo of the Royal Family and their clear dysfunctional patterns has not been seen as an act of courage but instead as an act of contempt.

People are quick to label her as a diva or villain, while not seeing what she’s trying to accomplish. What I believe she is doing is again advocating for what she needs emotionally for herself and her family, and that should be celebrated.

Harry and Meghan seem to both have come from former dance floors, which have elements of dysfunction and trauma. Harry himself saw how his mother, Princess Diana, was treated, and how her life was tragically linked to the power and cruelty that comes with being part of such a toxic system.  Knowing this, can we blame him for wanting a healthier dynamic while not seeing the ones he loves criticized or abused?

Advocating for a life that meets our emotional and physical needs again is at the core of individuation. We aren’t responsible for the dysfunction we might have been born into, but it is our responsibility to break cycles that will honor our emotional health and happiness. This, to me, is the work that a lot of us are doing, and I wholeheartedly wish it were regarded as an act of courage.

For those who struggle with understanding individuation and see it as selfish, it most likely means that you don’t resonate with the ugliness that exists when you come from a dysfunctional family. The cruelty that often comes along with highly dysfunctional families can be brutal and self-defeating. I see these dynamics in place for many families, not just the Royal Family.

Choosing to individuate from a family that is cruel and dysfunctional can be one of the best decisions that you can make. We are the experts in what we need in terms of our emotional and physical health. When we stay in dynamics that hurt our souls, we aren’t just being complacent, but we are perpetuating further abuse toward ourselves and possibly others down the road.

I encourage us all to think more about what we need from those we love and whether we are getting the emotional support and love we all deserve. If not, how can you choose to create more of what you want while being okay with individuating?

As we all know, we only have one life, and one dance floor that we have the power to change. Having an awareness of what we need is the first step. Once we become clear on that, we can choose whom we want to be around us, and who is not worthy of being on our dance floor.

Individuation is an extensive topic, but one I feel compelled and passionate about discussing. If you are feeling like you are not being treated with kindness and love from anyone, I urge you to look at these relationships while taking a self-inventory. What’s keeping you stuck on a dance floor that makes you feel so disenfranchised and possibly self-defeated?

I only wish Meghan and Harry a life that encompasses all that matters most to them, and I extend the same wish for us all.

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