Brand building through storytelling

It’s no one’s fault, it’s just family ecology

So there you are, a grownup with at least a couple of the following: job, mortgage, vet bills, kid. You have friends who laugh at your jokes, colleagues who ask your advice and may even think of you as their mentor. You also have a family. And when you’re with them, you’re not your usual assured adult self. You revert to the child you used to be as if pulled by invisible hands. At least you’re not playing this game by yourself—your siblings know all the moves and share your wild delusion that someone can actually win this contest.

TannenNow at last this dynamic has a name. No, not “craziness” (or mishigas, if you prefer), but “family ecology.” I wish I’d thought of that but I was beaten to the punch byDeborah Tannen, best-selling untangler of familial knots, in her latest book You Were Always Mom’s Favorite: Sisters in Conversation Throughout Their Lives. I do have a consolation prize of sorts, one I share with my younger sister Joyce. Tannen’s sources include the parallel essays we wrote for More on our powerful but conflicted bond. In her discussion of family ecology, we’re Exhibit A.

Tannen deconstructs the scene that led to one of our most painful divisions. Joyce was coming to Toronto on business and very much wanted to stay in my house. I was spooked by the memory of a previous visit in which I’d felt crowded out by my sister’s full-throttle busyness. As I put it inMore, “I couldn’t bear to hurt my sister—or lose myself placating her.” So my husband and I stayed in a nearby hotel and gave Joyce the run of our house. Dispassionate but acute, Tannen writes with sympathy for us both and a deep understanding of what fuels this kind of muddle:

The solution seemed perfect to Rona but not to Joyce. Joyce, the younger sister, had always longed to be accepted by Rona and had always (as Joyce wrote in her accompanying essay) felt rejected by her. That same dynamic was being played out again. Vacating her own home so Joyce could stay in it was an admirable (one might say heroic) effort not to disappoint her sister. But it is also a perfect example of recreating rejection in apparent welcome. Joyce wanted to stay with her sister, not just in her house. By moving out, Rona turned down the most important element of Joyce’s request—her desire for closeness—and Joyce ended up feeling rejected again.

Now, how sharp is that? Trust me: if you have a sister, you’ll find yourselves in this book. And perhaps you already have.

Posted by Rona

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