Dealing with family turmoil can be one of the most stressful issues facing a college student. Maybe you grew up in a family with considerable turmoil or dysfunction, or maybe family problems erupted once you left for school. In either case, trying to deal with these problems can be very disruptive to college life, but learning to face these issues in a productive way will help you become emotionally stronger and have a better college experience.
Let's first consider the example where problems started to occur in your family once you left for school. Perhaps your parents decided to get a divorce or one of your siblings or family members developed a physical or psychological illness. These are just some examples that often occur, but there could be many others. These issues may leave you feeling distraught, confused and alone. Sometimes students feel they are reponsible for resolving some of the family issues and this adds an extra emotional burden. In any of these situations it is best if you can openly communicate with members of your family, meaning that you talk directly to the person with whom you have concerns. Sometimes students get caught in the middle and become messengers for their parents or siblings. This is not a healthy pattern of communication and is only likely to contribute to your distress rather than reduce it. It is important to remember that you cannot change your family, but you can change the way you respond. Being responsible for your feelings and communicating them in a forthright and respectful way may help others to do so as well.
In times of crisis it is important to have a support network. Letting close friends know what is going on with you can be a stress reducer. Continuing with your usual activities can be a helpful distraction at times, or, deciding to prioritize and reduce your busy schedule can be helpful. In addition, are their other resources available to you? Would a visit to financial aid for information be helpful? A visit to campus ministry? A call to another relative? Are there support groups in the area that might help you cope and give you ideas?
Now, let's consider the other example mentioned—you grew up in a family with a lot of turmoil and dysfunction. Sometimes students hope that they can escape their family by leaving for school. While it is true that having some distance from the family can be a helpful way to examine its impact upon you, it simply isn't possible to escape or avoid your family's influence. It is likely that the relationships you had or did not have in your family are having an impact on the way you develop relationships and resolve issues at school. It is likely that your emotional, psychological and intellectual well-being have been affected by growing up in a family with considerable turmoil or dysfunction. Trying to forget the past without understanding its impact upon you usually will not work and can lead to more problems.
The best way to move on and leave your family is to face what really occurred in your family. Sometimes people fear that dealing with the hurt and pain will be overwhelming and they will not be able to cope, but the reverse is actually more accurate. Facing the hurt and pain makes you better able to cope, because you can express it and release it. It loses power over you this way. By gaining a better understanding, you can then choose new ways to respond and you won't feel trapped in old ways of reacting.
In any case, it is important to remember that you are a product of your family, a product of its strengths and its weaknesses. As you enter adulthood, it is up to you to grow with that knowledge and to choose a path for yourself. If you need help with this process, there are many resources in the Baltimore area. If you would like to discuss family problems or any other issues with a counselor, call or stop by the Counseling Center for an appointment.