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Talking about the Elephant in the Room

By Dwight Bain

Been to the circus and seen the elephants? The domesticated ones are amazing to watch, but what if an elephant were not tamed?  What would happen then? Elephants are the largest living animals walking on earth at 13 feet tall weighing up to 15,000 pounds that can destroy about anything, (I saw a TV news story showing an elephant on rampage literally tossing cars around like small toys and chasing hundreds of people down the street… terrifying). Tamed elephants can add value, but a wild elephant goes wherever it wants, leaving a path of destruction in its path.

There is an old saying that some families have an elephant in the room; meaning there are some huge issues no one is willing to talk about. Yet, just like having something bigger than a mini-van in the living room, everyone can see it. Psychologists call this dysfunction, but if you are living through it you know it’s totally discouraging, disheartening and sometimes even dangerous… like a wild elephant.  

A dysfunctional family has three rules about the elephant in the room-

1.      Don’t Talk

2.      Don’t Think

3.      Don’t Feel

Meaning there are usually a lot of secrets, silence and stress in dysfunctional families. It is more common than you think for families to ignore one another, or worse to blow up on each other.

How to get started? You have to name the beast.

Sometimes the ‘elephant’ is alcohol, sometimes it’s abusive or violent language, sometimes it can be a secret addiction like gambling, drugs or pornography, then other times it’s about money; major debt no one talks about, or takes action about until the moving trucks arrive before foreclosure and the cars are repossessed. A distant marriage that is slowly dying – but no one does anything about it can be a common ‘elephant.’ In-laws and family loyalty can be a massive elephant for some families – you know, this family member doesn’t like that in-law, so they make secret phone calls or stab them in the back to continually weaken the relationship. It can really get ugly… and can only get bigger until someone names the beast.

 

Family secrets happen a lot, but it doesn’t have to stay that way.  You can ‘tame’ the elephants by naming them, and beginning to talk about it; or make the decision to keep them locked up and never discuss it again but you can’t let them roam around your family wrecking everything in their path. Here is a better formula to solve family dysfunction and do what I call ‘taming the elephants.’  

This process is easy to remember, since it spells out the word, “TALK.” Here’s how it works:

T – Trust

A – Accept

L – Listen

K – Keep calm

First, you have to have a trusting relationship with the people in your family to talk openly about anything. If you have trust, you have everything and are better able to discuss problems openly. If there is low trust, or worse, you are in a relationship without trust then you need to call in a professional elephant tamer, (read as Counselor), since they can bring balance to the situation until trust can be rebuilt.

Once trust is built, the next step is to accept what your family member is saying. Remember, they have a perspective that you may have overlooked, and their opinion needs to be considered. Acceptance involves not attacking, criticizing or blaming a person for sharing their point of view. Which leads to the next stage in the process –

Listen. Simply stop and really listen to your family members. Listen to your friends. Start conversations about the ‘elephant’s in the room’ and really listen to what is being said. Family secrets cannot last long when you are talking openly and listening to each other. In fact, many problems are solved when you just block out time to listen to each other.

Of course family secrets are tough to talk about, so the final part of the process is to keep calm; especially if the topics are difficult to bring up, (like alcoholism, an affair or unplanned pregnancy). Keep calm and remember the goal, to tame the elephants of major problems to keep your home calm and safe.

When you tackle these issues directly and in a calm way you can work through anything. If things get a little rocky, reach out for help from others, but don’t just ignore the elephants. Families that talk openly together, and then prayerfully work through the issues move from living in a circus full of crazy elephants running around, to a peaceful zoological park. The big issues may still be there, but they are named, managed and observed from a safe distance and no one gets hurt.

You don’t have to lose your marriage or family over the elephant in the room, but you do have to TALK about it. There is a verse in Isaiah 55 that can get you started, “Come let us reason together.” If there are elephants running around your home I challenge you to seek a reasonable solution. Stop avoiding and start talking. You will like the results if you stick with it because the more you TALK the less likely you will get trampled in the process. Since family secrets get worse with time, get started and know God is challenging you to speak the truth in a loving way. (Ephesians 4:15)

 

 

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