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How to Undo Unhealthy Patterns in Your Family



Architects create blueprints for buildings. Seamstresses follow patterns to create clothing. Sons and daughters follow parents into the family business. Patterns surround us.

They guide our steps, form habits, and influence our family dynamics. But what happens when the patterns don’t bring about the desired results? What happens when we find ourselves trapped in an unhealthy cycle?

I’m reminded of the story of the wise man and the foolish man. The foolish man built his house on the sand. It’s possible blasting dynamite into the rock was too much work. He might have wanted the quickest possible route to relaxation and fun in the sun. The lure of front porch relaxing while gazing at the sunset cost him in the long run.

The wise man took the longer more laborious route. When my grandparents built their lake home, they needed to bring in supplies by boat as there wasn’t a road to their property. They set dynamite charges in the rock in order to create the proper footings to support their home. I’m so glad they worked hard and took the proper precautions.

My memory holds wonderful moments: chipmunks eating from my hand, jeweled raspberries in light blue bowls, and the way the water glistened in the morning sun.

When we start a family, it’s easy to get swept into the fantasies of golden sunsets on the beach. In reality, it’s more like back-breaking work with sweat dripping into our eyes.

The Hard Way Is the Way to a Solid Family

The easy way often leads to heartbreak.

Family life combines our respective life experiences from previous generations. Some families pass down life-giving habits and others life-stealing patterns. We combine these with our own struggles and trials of life.

This creates a recipe for life that needs dependence on God as the most important ingredient.

Even the best-intentioned mother or father can find themselves in unhealthy patterns. One of the greatest gifts God gives us is his ability to redeem.

He redeems our life from past mistakes, regrets, and the things we don’t want to do yet persist in doing. Unhealthy patterns may abound, but God offers abundant redemption.

Poor communication, compulsive addictions, controlling behavior, perfectionism, lack of empathy, and excessive criticism lead to unhealthy patterns in our families.

There is a great deal of difference between abusive and unhealthy patterns in a family. Abusive situations require the intervention and attention of counseling professionals. Unhealthy patterns need a willingness to see the patterns, what they do, and the willingness to do the work needed to create healthy patterns for the benefit of our families.

Examples of Unhealthy Patterns

Relationships depend on communication, and it’s one of the easiest areas to develop unhealthy patterns. In our distraction prone society, lazy listening takes concentrated effort to overcome.

We use passive-aggressive or aggressive replies to express our disagreement. The silent treatment slams the door on communication. Explosive anger’s unpredictability laces interactions with fear.

Compulsive behavior ranges anywhere from substance abuse to overworking to overeating to needing excessive amounts of self-care.

Controlling behavior rears its ugly head in relationships with children or spouses which leads to resentment in the relationship. Perfectionism places powerful burdens on someone that leads to feelings of failure.

Lack of empathy creates an unsafe environment for an individual’s life experiences and excessive criticism robs others of their voice.

Examples of Healthy Patterns

Healthy patterns in a family include the following: respect, which is the act of consideration towards each other. Emotional safety, which is the ability to state thoughts without fear of dismissal or belittlement.

Accountability, apology, freedom to grow, courtesy, sibling bonds, clear boundaries, support of one another, sense of humor, and spending time together are more examples of healthy patterns in families.

Other healthy patterns involve parents co-parenting, building a resilient foundation by encouragement for the body, soul, and spirit. Healthy families allow reasonable expression of emotions, gentle teasing, and they go easy on the sarcasm.

Patterns develop because individuals, with unique strengths and weaknesses, make up a family unit.

It’s up to us, as parents, to determine a few core values for our unique family unit, and then put practices in place to guide us.

Identifying unhealthy patterns requires us to contemplate Matthew 7:3-5. Then we are better able to recognize behavior patterns that interfere with the development of our chosen core values.

If you’re feeling like your family has a tremendous amount of growing to do—it’s okay! The good thing is that you recognize it, and are humble enough to admit it to yourself. That is the very first step in changing the culture of your family for the better.

Photo Credit: ©GettyImages/McIninch

Moving from Unhealthy to Healthy Patterns

Once we’ve determined our family’s core values, it’s time to decide which pattern to work on.

Undoing unhealthy patterns requires a sense of self-awareness while the new patterns take root. This can be exhausting, but if we can keep the end goal in mind, it will propel us through the difficulties of rewiring our thoughts and behavior patterns.

For example, to change the pattern from an unhealthy display of disrespect to a healthy pattern of respect, one needs to determine ways to increase consideration toward one another. A family who wishes to show each other respect, can begin to think about each other when making decisions.

Respect prefers one another. It honors one another. It can be as simple as letting someone else go first or offering to help someone without being asked.

I live on a gravel road and every spring we go through mud season. The roads fill with ruts and my vehicle bounces along them. I fool myself into thinking I’m in control of the car, but I’m not, the ruts do the directing.

Unhealthy patterns in our family are ruts. We jostle back and forth, frustrated and stuck. Eventually, mud season ends, the roads dry up, the maintainer smooths them out, and I’m back to steering my car instead of the ruts. In our homes, unhealthy patterns resemble those ruts.

God’s wisdom and strength smooths out our unhealthy patterns as we look to him for help. Success in undoing unhealthy patterns comes when we rely on God. When we ask, he reveals which patterns need addressing, he gives us the wisdom to know what to do, and he gives us the strength to do it.

Progress Is the Goal

Sometimes in our discovery of unhealthy patterns, we grow discouraged because it’s all we can see. Overwhelm and discouragement is a real thing that keeps us from moving forward.

Taking small steps is the most important choice. Long lasting progress takes time. Quick results are exciting, but some patterns are so entrenched that they will take determination and hard work to undo. That’s okay.

Progress, not perfection is the goal.

As much as I love a quick fix, I keep in mind the larger picture. I’m creating a generational legacy so I parent with the long-game in mind. When I forget and slip back into unhealthy patterns, I am quick to recognize it and repent.

Psalm 46:1 says, “God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble.” The Lord is there to help us when we admit our struggles and rely on him.

In fact, that’s when the most long-lasting progress happens because in our weakness, he is strong. We take the next step with him leading us, cheering us, and empowering us. He sets us free from unhealthy patterns in our family.

God’s mercies are new every morning because he is faithful and steadfast towards us. Take a step toward undoing those unhealthy patterns by relying on him to direct your steps toward a healthy family unit.

Select one unhealthy pattern at a time to focus on and begin to see healthy patterns develop as you make conscious decisions to rewrite your family’s story.

Photo Credit: ©GettyImages/fizkes


Jessica Van Roekel leads worship in her local church and writes at www.welcomegrace.com. She believes that through Christ our personal histories don’t have to define our present or determine our future and writes about the transforming power of grace. Jessica lives in a rural setting surrounded by farmland and her husband and children. You can connect with her on Instagram and Facebook.

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