Because of the coronavirus, you probably pushed the pause button on your once-busy life and went back to your family home. After all, in a time of need, you should be with your family. But although you love your parents, siblings, or aunts, there’s something about a homecoming that makes you feel stressed.
Suddenly, you get annoyed by your younger brother’s antics. A simple debate about which cereal brands to buy or which packaging store to talk to for your mother’s essential oil startup makes you feel cranky. And your older sister becomes cruel to you again—just like how she treated you when you were kids.
So why? Why do the people you love dearly make you feel irritated even when they don’t mean to? Why is it easy for your loved ones to throw emotional spears at you, and vice versa? Psychologists have some answers.
You feel too comfortable at home.
One reason family members clash is the same reason they love each other: comfort. You grew up with your siblings, so you know each other so well—sometimes a little too well that makes comfort a double-edged sword. A social psychologist at Yale University, Margaret Clark, explained in an interview with Vox that since you’re comfortable with your family, you feel safe showing every side of yourself to them, including the bad.
Your ability to express your irritation might actually be a sign that you have a strong relationship with your family. You feel free and safe to show you’re annoyed, without the fear of abandonment or punishment.
But Clark pointed out that expressing negative emotions can also become dysfunctional. Though it’s comfortable to stay true to our emotions, it should only come second to treating your family well. It’s normal to feel irritated about what your loved ones say or do, but don’t use that an excuse to hurt them.
Old family dynamics resurface.
Another reason being around your family stresses you out is that old family dynamics resurface. Joseph Cilona, a New York-based clinical psychologist, explained that you might regress to behaviors you’ve already outgrown in your adult lives but were common in your childhood.
Say you’ve already spent a decade living alone in the city. When you go back home, your parents might treat you as if you’re not old enough to make your own decisions, which could irritate you. Or because you’re living again with your older siblings, you find yourself seeking their stamp of approval like you used to. That could also push them to regress to their childhood behaviors, such as ignoring or being cruel to you.
Your routines are disrupted.
Since you spent years away from home, your current environment might make you feel cranky. You’re probably not sleeping well, and your routines are now disrupted. Your mom probably wakes you up at six, but you’re used to getting up at 10 since your work doesn’t start until 1 PM. Add that disrupted routine to regressed behaviors and the fact that your loved ones bring out the worst in you, and you have a recipe for stress.
Your family can drive you crazy. But that doesn’t mean you don’t love them. In these trying times, being with your family—no matter how messy and complicated it is sometimes—can make you feel safe and secure.