Believe it or not, wondering whether you have to love your family can sound like you’re the absolute worst (adult) child ever, at least for those who come from legitimately healthy families. However, the reality is that healthy families comprise the majority.
If you’re thinking that, then you’re most likely from a toxic and dysfunctional family, and you’re confused about how to deal with this. This is mostly what I’ll tackle in this post. I hope it helps you even if just a bit.
Do you have to love your family?
No, you don’t have to love your family—even if you consider yours a healthy one. Love, as an action word, isn’t something forced. You simply do or don’t like to do it. The takeaway is that it’s usually for the better to love them, but you don’t do it out of obligation, coercion, or indebtedness.
This becomes glaringly obvious if you have a toxic family. You may already know the answer to this.
But to be fair, you don’t have to love them even if they aren’t toxic. You are not obliged to love anyone at all, for that matter.
Love is an action word—just to emphasize this. Your family can claim that they love you. They may even say it’s “tough love.” But unless they showed it through actions, then you know it may not be true at all.
Coming from a toxic family, you may not understand what the word love really means. Maybe the definition you know has been distorted. But if you treat love as something you do, then you should pretty much get the picture.
All that said, you can always choose to love your family. The bottom line is that you simply do it or you don’t. It may even be pointless to ask, “Do you have to love your family?” You could try for a while but most likely you’ll still realize the same: you simply do or do not.
How important is it to love your family?
To be perfectly honest, I’m pretty sure you know that loving your family is important.
But since you are the child, let’s get into why family love is important.
For one, family love sets up children to form secure attachments throughout their life. Securely attached adults feel safe and cared for.
Children who have been grounded in sound family love gain confidence and a high self-esteem, learn conflict resolution skills, have better chances to have good physical health, become more resilient in the face of adversity, have lower chances of depression and poor mental health, and many more.
In short, this kind of family love is good to have. If you have it, nurture it and don’t let it go.
On the other hand, the value of your chosen family (biological family may be included) can never be understated, especially if you’re from a toxic family.
This study shows that long-term happiness is far more dependent on friendships than familial relations. Friendships can also prove important in dealing with trauma.
Whether biological or chosen family, loving them—or maintaining healthy relationships with them—is great for your wellbeing. You not only become happier, but you also have the privilege to soldier on in the most difficult times of your life with the best people who genuinely care about you.
Related: Do Toxic Parents Love You?
Is it OK to not love your family?
As love is something you can’t force upon yourself, it is perfectly OK to not love your family, especially if you have not learned it from them because of their toxic and abusive nature. That you cannot bring yourself to love them is not your fault. Accept this and move on with this truth.
You know the importance of loving your family, but, particularly if you’ve suffered abuse or neglect, you have to be ready to love them should you choose to do so. Maybe you want to try forgiving them first.
You may even have your own definition of love. Realistically, it could be unrequited or reciprocal or conditional. But the point is that you just don’t give it to them just because it sounds better.
Can you love someone who’s done unimaginably horrifying things to you? Who’s still mistreating you even though you’re an adult already? Who keeps breaking your heart upon the slightest hints of affection?
Of course only you can answer those kinds of questions. Just don’t feel bad about yourself if you can’t love them. Don’t subscribe to the culture of shame that the “healthy” society peddles if you can’t.
Not loving one’s family entails huge—and most likely, horrible—reasons a lot of people may not understand. It’s dead easy to love one’s family. If you have those horrible reasons, then it’s OK. It’s OK to not love your family.
Things you can keep in mind in loving your family
Try to love your family still. Yes, I said that love simply may just be there or not, but I advocate loving your family for the somewhat selfish reason that it’s good for you. Besides, if it isn’t really hurting you (which would be ironic) then why not just love them anyway?
Look for the positives in your family. These could be anything: traits, things they do for you, or impact on your community. They may have their toxic side but as long as they’re within limits (hopefully) then it may be much easier to be with them if you focus (and hopefully talk about) the good stuff about them.
Tolerance may be a form of love. Any forms of abuse and maltreatment are not included in this act of love. Loving your family means accepting them for their flaws and shortcomings, alongside the circumstances you share. Loving may be hard, sure, but I think love isn’t love without the hard stuff.
Know your limits and set your boundaries. It seems “keeping the peace” is a thing among many families, where you would rather (pretend to) appease your (toxic) family just to avoid conflicts. That itself can be a boundary enforced. You could love them as much as you can only give them and that’s fine.
Your chosen family can give you familial love. What a wonderful thing! You don’t have to be biologically related to what you consider family! Studies show that people with strong social ties have a 50% better chance of survival than those without. Explore your social network and you may just be surprised by what you find!
Try this rule: People deserve love until proven otherwise. This may be risky depending on your approach. But basically the idea is to show love to people you like—until they prove they don’t deserve it. It may be a shotgun approach but this is a great way to find people who can enrich your life.
Most people will think you have to love your family, and that’s okay. Sometimes it even becomes a toxic game, in which some people “brag” online about their show of affection towards their folks, but the reality just isn’t the case. As if it’s a badge of honor to show the world these “kind acts” they’re doing. If you grew up in a toxic household, beware of these “kind people” imposing their beliefs upon you.
Loving is different from liking your family. Love is an admirable and beautiful thing. And indeed, love may conquer all. But you may be confusing it with liking. Because you can absolutely love your family while disliking them. Love can be complex like that.
Unconditional love can be toxic. This kind of love—when carried out for the wrong reasons—is simply forced. I’d even argue that love—real love—is already unconditional by nature. Therefore, adding the qualifier “unconditional” means the definition of love, in this case, is flawed in the first place.
- Blood Doesn’t Choose Your Family, You Do. Reporter Magazine. Rochester Institute of Technology.
- Do I Have to Love My Family? Embark Behavioral Health.
- The Importance of Family Love. Verywell Mind.
Image Credits: Photo by Jack Finnigan on Unsplash