World – Whether one likes it or not, family relationships play a central role in shaping an individual’s well-being and life. Family relationships are valued throughout the world, culturally and religiously. In Islam, one is taught to maintain family ties and never do anything to break them.
The heavy emphasis placed on family relationships is telling of how important of a role it plays in one’s life. It is the smallest unit of society and one that shapes a person. Dr TK Harris, neuroscientist, is a firm believer in this fact.
“The role of the family in anyone’s life is essential to their perceptions and the development of how they view the world. Islam gives us both the free will and the comfort of family. Family is described many times in the Quraan as comforts for you. They are not your possessions … They are a source of thankfulness if you are mindful and able to nurture the character of your family then you have the formation of a good individual.”
The way negative family relationships can affect a person
Family relationships can shape an individual in different ways. Our first lessons about the world and the people around us are taught to us, indirectly or directly, by our family members. While one can hope these connections impact us in a positive way, they can also impact someone in a negative way, explained Harris.
“This connection can be negative if a person has an atmosphere growing up of being neglected or unable to communicate in a free way or express yourself in a constructive way but also, as you grow up the positive side of the connection are the affirmations that once you are an adult, you are an individual, you can productively detach yourself from issues in the past that has stunted or otherwise got in the way of your development.”
However, reaching a stage where one can detach from these issues and move on to become the person they want to be isn’t always that easy. Most of the time therapy is required to reach that level.
Islamic therapy and the methods used by Harris
When someone experiences trauma at a young age it tends to get pushed to the back of their mind. Some experiences may be too painful to think about let alone speak about. As one grows, they often decide they want to understand themselves better. To do this self-examination is fine as long as one has a goal mind.
“What you want to avoid is to be searching for issues without necessarily having an aim in mind. It is natural, the Nafs (desires), tends to be self-examination anyway. In fact, when you are in a state of either guilt or self-reproach or self-loathing or anxiety about who you are, the temptation is then to identify what went wrong. Whether it was your fault, whether somebody else did something wrong and that tends to be only partially useful. Once people reach that point, supposing they were completely correct about it, the chances are that they won’t quite know what to do with it. The problem itself doesn’t necessarily get solved. I discourage people when they come to me from trying to just understand for the sake of understanding.”
If there is a fire in your house, the first concern is figuring out how to put out the fire. Not who caused it. Similarly, figuring out if someone did you wrong or not is not the main issue. One needs to solve how to cool the anger, hate or any other emotion in their heart that arises because of the situation they went through.
Reconstruction is not dependent on a person’s past but rather it is focused on what you do now in the present. Western therapy looks to unpack the past in an attempt to solve the future however, Harris looks at the present instead of the past.
“When I start, I actually turn the whole thing upside down and say okay what I would like to know is three or four things that you would like to change in your life as it is now. Then before going on to ask them about their problems of the past, I usually sort of drag them out of that and say actually unlike most Western doctors I’m going to ask you what you are thankful to Allah (SWT) for. If they’re not so sure about that I say look at what you have in your life around you. What are the things that you are very grateful for? What do you do that is of value that other people like about you or that you are skilled at?”
In this way, Harris allows them to understand there are many things to be grateful for. He also uses verses from the Quraan to make one understand life’s challenges are given by Allah (SWT) because they can handle it. Even if they believe they are broken, they are not for only something that is given too much to bear can be broken. This method also allows them to see that while there may be troubles in their life, they also have values that make them extremely important. They carry scars but they also carry in them important values that people admire them for.
Helping others in the family reach the same level as you are
When someone becomes more enlightened and starts practicing Islam more diligently, there might be someone in the family who isn’t as diligent. Oftentimes this can cause conflict between the two. There are different ways one can tackle the situation in a loving and caring manner.
“It depends on your role. You’d respect that person. You have a role and Islam suggests you act within that role to support, encourage and bring on a sense of awareness in that person holistically … You can in your role as a parent demonstrate and encourage.”
If you cannot convince someone verbally then one should understand they have fulfilled their duties. A person can only advise someone, but it is up to them to take the advice and act on it. It is important to not force someone to do something for they can rebel in a much dangerous way.
“It is probably not to coerce them. In the majority of cases, it is found to be counterproductive. It tends to create people who are openly defiant or excessively compliant but when your back is turned, they’ll do exactly what they wanted anyway.”
The easiest way to convince anyone is to listen to them, seek to find out who they are. By building this bridge and showing you care about them, it will allow them to be more open to listening to you. An insightful conversation is more helpful than an instruction.
It is important to make people feel valid for who they are. They may have their way of doing things differently, but it is important to respect that. It is another way of letting someone be open with you. A person should feel unjudged at home and loved, said Harris.
The impact of marital breakdown
Divorce in the world is on the rise. More and more marriages are simply not working out. While older generations might believe there is some flaw, Harris attributes this to women feeling more empowered and unafraid to leave a marriage if it doesn’t work out. The resulting split can have either negative or positive aspects or even both.
“If a couple splits and they have children, perhaps it was certainly much better for the mental health of the partners involved but perhaps there will also be a fallout where the children will not fare so well. It is rarely straightforward. Just do your best given the circumstances.”
Allah (SWT) has created everyone in a different way for a reason. No one is the same as another and Harris stressed it is important everyone becomes the best version of themselves, not try to duplicate another person. The important thing is to continue to act with Islam as your focus point. In any situation if one keeps that in their mind, it will be easier to navigate the difficulties of life and move forward to become the best version of yourself for yourself and family.