Balancing idealism and realism
At home, the masks come off, and people can be themselves. Play-acting and pretending don’t work at home. Family members know each other’s real self too well, including the weak spots.
Family life tests our tolerance for imperfection. Because I’m not perfect, I can’t expect my partner and children to be perfect. I have to make allowance for weaknesses and hope they will have the same attitude toward me.
How far should this tolerance go? Should family members put up with abuse, slothfulness and laziness?
Happy families maintain a good balance between idealism and realism, doing their best and tolerating imperfection. As long as members put in the necessary effort, their lack of perfection is tolerated. But when wilfully lax, members are called to order.
Tolerating imperfection at home while all are doing their best, is a sign of forgiveness, consideration, and courtesy — attitudes that promote good relationships.
When people trade this approach for criticism and perfectionism, they set a negative cycle in motion. What goes around comes around. Negative remarks and body language will return to the person who started them.
Jesus said that the measure we use, will be used on us (Luke 6:38). He also pointed out that it is presumptuous trying to remove a speck of dust from someone’s eye while you have a plank in your own eye.
Blaming others usually reveals a guilty conscience.
Perfectionism is a vicious cycle. It starts with dissatisfaction with yourself. To escape this unpleasant feeling, people either project it on others (blaming them for their faults) or try to compensate by putting up high standards for themselves (showing they are not so bad after all). Both efforts boomerang: their blaming sours relations, and their compensation fails. They end up more miserable than they were.
When family members trade appreciation and support for criticism and selfishness, this cycle escalates. Words get sharper and may lead to physical abuse. The family interaction becomes dysfunctional and hard to change.
Even when family members realize their mistakes, they are afraid to start the positive cycle first. They fear they may be blamed and criticized for not doing their share perfectly. Family members in counselling must learn again to tolerate imperfection while all do their best.
Instead of zooming in on failures, they should maintain a wide perspective and acknowledge successes and good efforts.
It is a great shock to a family when a sober alcoholic relapses after a few years of happiness. They should not delete those good years but use them as foundation for another good period.
This tolerance should not spur addicts to occasional relapses but show them the difference between addiction and happiness. Relapses steal their joy.
Jacob Van Zyl of Lethbridge is a retired counsellor and the author of several faith-based books.