How do you maintain a good relationship with a family member no one wants anything to do with?

Hi Windy,

You are a girl after my own heart.

It’s hard when you see someone in your family being ostracized and excluded from the very people who are meant to love and support them. Family can be so complicated, especially in tribal communities when the structure of our family units are so intertwined and close knit.

I always want to find a way to help people, especially when I see someone hurting. And being ostracized and excluded can be one of the worst pains. Ostracism has been described by some as “social death” and in our tribal communities there is not much worse than this. Family can feel like everything.

Traditionally, ostracism or shunning was used to punish misbehavior. I’m not saying that this is what is happening with your family, but I think it’s important to really look at the whole situation. And, sometimes there are no good reasons for ostracizing someone, especially if it’s some sort of discrimination. Whatever the case, more than likely there are some things going on behind the scenes you may not know about and you could make things worse by pushing your family to be around this person when they are not ready.

To give you a little background on ostracism, so that you have a better understanding of how your excluded family member might feel and act, they can react in a lot of different ways and can range from: being overly nice/complimentary, going out of their way to please you, or to be noticed, or it can turn into aggression or demeaning behavior. This can be done by giving negative comments about other family members to take the focus off of them. The person being ostracized might behave this way because we have a basic need to belong, especially in close knit tribal communities.

Here are three things you can do to help this person:

  1. Find other support – encourage your family member to not rely completely on your family. Friends, tribal health center, veterans services, basketball league can be good places for him to get some support and love.
  2. Model Good Behavior – if you want to see people in your life being treated a certain way…then show your family what that looks like. Try to highlight the positive things about this individual, especially if there are things they are doing to be a better person. Also, try to remain neutral and try not to take sides. Love and respect your whole family unconditionally and be fair.
  3. Forgive & Give time – encourage your family to give the ‘silent treatment’ an end point. Remind your family that being excluded hurts. You can say something like, “You know we haven’t invited Uncle Joe to dinner in a while, maybe we can invite him to brother’s basketball game.” Keep in mind that your family may need time to resolve the underlying issues, so be patient but stress an endpoint to the ostracism. If the exclusion goes on for a long time it can lead to depression and a feeling of helplessness. This is when you might encourage this family member to get outside help. Look to your tribal health department and ask about their counseling services for help.

Let us know how it goes and if you have any tips you can share with us from your experience.

Best of luck Windy. I am appreciating you from here and I’m sure your family member will appreciate the unconditional love and support you are giving them. 

Auntie Manda

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