Dreading the Holidays: Dysfunction with a Dose of Curiosity

Here we are! Thanksgiving is tomorrow! You may be on your way to your Thanksgiving destination, preparing to travel, preparing your own home for the arrival of friends and family or already on the dysfunction train. Isn’t this exciting?! You are given the opportunity to practice a few skills this year. This is the first marathon you will be running over the next several weeks. Whether this is your inaugural run or you are a seasoned pro, be gentle with yourself. Do not expect perfection; it isn’t attainable.
You are ready to pay attention to what you are thinking and feeling. You will be noticing your sadness, hurt, anger, frustration and fear. You can also notice the good feelings, too. Some things will be pleasant. You are ready with the stance of seeking to understand the other person and experiencing compassion for him. A mind-set that can help with understanding and compassion is curiosity. Approach situations from a gentle position that asks the question, “Hmmm, what is going on here?”
You don’t need to come right out and ask the question aloud. You can simply observe. For years you have probably been sucked into some of the craziness going on around you without realizing what the heck was going on. This time, stop. Be aware of your own thoughts and emotions, then begin to observe the connections and disconnections, the snappy comments, the barbs. With the curiosity of a child piecing together an unknown world, begin to compassionately notice.
This is not permission to judge. I don’t mean that at all. Simply observe. Gently wonder about how Aunt Sally might be scared that you are choosing not to be married right now. What might be going on for your brother that he chooses to consistently drink excessively? You can gingerly step onto the ice of actually asking people your wonderings. You could begin going down an entirely new path for you and the people around you if you remain in that sweet spot of seeking to understand laced with compassion, staying away from judgment or trying to solve and fix the problem (previous post on this).
Big caution here: Not everyone likes to answer questions about themselves. They may find it intrusive. They might not want to be that vulnerable. Vulnerability probably contributes in some way to their pain. If so, just let it go and throttle back to simply observing without judgment. If you try to push someone into opening up, you could potentially start World War III. It is not your job to heal another, it is your job to be aware of yourself, to seek understanding through curiosity, to bring compassion. If doing your part sets the table for another to open up and allow you in to their pain, healing can happen but it can never be forced.
A second caution: If Aunt Sally does open up to you, that is trusted information. You will not be showing compassion if you go around telling others her story. If she opened up to you, then you must hold onto that information as you would a fragile treasure. It is her story to share, not yours.
I am hoping this Thanksgiving you take at least one step toward a relationally healthier you!
If you missed the first two posts on dysfunction and the holidays, here are the links: Dreading the Holidays and Understanding and Compassion