Dreading the Holidays: The Power of Peace

One of the biggest contributors to dysfunction in our relationships is pride. Seeing ourselves as better than we really are, thinking we have it all together, lack of willingness to appreciate others’ points of view and approaching life with an adversarial attitude rather than a collaborative one. I recently watched the musical version of “A Miracle on 34th St”. There’s a scene where Santa, while working at Macy’s, tells the shoppers where they can buy the gifts they are looking for. If Macy’s didn’t have it, he told them which store did. This was initially shocking to the shoppers and horrified Mr. Macy. Imagine if we lived in a world where everyone was working together to help one another rather than selfishly trying to hoard all the good for ourselves?
How does this relate to our relationships and enjoying healthier holiday gatherings? Think about the issues you may have with family members or friends. On some level do the issues have something to do with pride? Let’s say I go to someone’s house for dinner. I dread going. I think they are snobbish and all they talk about is their vacations and cars and things. If I step back for a moment and look at what is really going on, who has the problem? Me! I am likely jealous of their beautiful home and the excess money they have to spend on the finer things in life. To make myself feel better I tear them down. A healthy shift would be to celebrate their good fortune with them. The distribution of money is not equal in this world. That is a reality I must accept. I can own feelings of sadness that I don’t have as much as they do, then decide not to let that sadness morph into jealousy. I can keep tabs on my sadness. When it pops up, I again notice it, take a deep breath and accept reality. I can ask myself if I want to let jealousy take over and ruin our relationship. When I am direct with myself and aware of both my emotions and my choices, I tend to make decisions that promote healthy connections.
We don’t always agree with the political views, parenting techniques or life styles of others. Our tendency is to build up walls with people when we don’t see eye to eye with them. This is an adversarial, pride motivated stance. Our job is to notice it. Notice the emotions you feel when you are around certain people. Holiday gatherings provide awesome opportunities for us to exercise this part of us. Are you feeling some version of sadness, anger or fear? Maybe you feel threatened when someone else doesn’t agree with you. There’s space in this world for differing opinions. Accept that people do not have to agree with you. If we let go of our pride that fuels the hatred between philosophies we could perhaps live in peace and acceptance.
I think it stretches us when we are around people who have different views or who challenge our jealous tendencies. So, the next time you encounter your own pride, notice it. Be aware of your emotions and the thoughts around them. Ask yourself if you are benefitting by hanging on to your pride. Does it promote connection or create separation? Take a deep breath. As you exhale, visualize the pride and icky feelings exiting your body and mind. Then inhale deeply and soak in compassion, love and acceptance of others.
Your work in this area is not dependent on others. If no one around you is practicing this, that’s their issue. You are responsible for your actions, attitudes and words.

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

Dreading the Holidays: Understanding and Compassion

The first of a tightly knit string of holidays is almost here…one week for those of us who are celebrating Thanksgiving! Are you ready to be around people you find challenging? You know, the ones who say things and suddenly you no longer feel very good about yourself. Perhaps drama trails around them like Pigpen’s dirt cloud or maybe you will be around an active alcoholic. For those of you who happen to posses and actively display dysfunctional characteristics, I am not slinging shame your way. Reality is reality and often our unhealthy behavior profoundly affects those around us. If you are the offender here, take a deep breath and own that your unhealthy behavior is dysfunctional and negatively affects the people around you. This may be the perfect time to get help: join a recovery group and get into therapy. As long as you are breathing you have the potential to change.
For those who are the receivers of dysfunctional behavior, remember that you are never very far from hurting others. As long as we are breathing, we are capable of hurting people around us. This awareness generally aids us with the next valuable action to help us deal with dysfunction: seeking to understand. Understanding where someone might be coming from, what he might be thinking or feeling, helps us develop compassion for him.
Understanding and its closely linked friend, compassion can dramatically change any dysfunctional system, at the very least for you. As you put on understanding and compassion, you will notice you are not so negatively affected by the dysfunction. You are more easily able to feel the effects of the dysfunctional barbs, recognize them as a product of the other person’s pain, process the feeling and realize, “This is not about me.” Once you have metabolized your own reaction, you can then shift your focus onto understanding this person. “Wow, that is really interesting Aunt Sally that you are so emphatic about me getting married. Are you afraid I’ll be depressed and alone if I’m not married?” You can actually have a dialogue with Aunt Sally rather than become withdrawn and shut down by her comment.
Engaging with another person from a place of understanding and compassion requires you to avoid being on the defensive. If this is too big of a step right now, that’s ok. If recognizing and understanding the barb coming from the other person is about his own issues is as far as you are ready to go at this point in your own healing process, that in itself is an accomplishment. Celebrate that you are not allowing another person’s dysfunction to sideline you from enjoying the holiday gathering.
Here’s the link to last week’s post: Dreading the Holidays?

Dreading the Holidays?

I’m sure the reasons for your yes are varied. On the top of many lists is having to deal with dysfunctional families. We live in an imperfect world with imperfect people and bring our own imperfections into every encounter. Since we cannot change the world or others, we can only focus on ourselves.
If you’ve been reading my blog for awhile, you will know where I am going to begin: Awareness. My favorite concept! If we don’t notice what we are thinking, feeling and doing in any given moment we cannot possibly create change. We end up being reactionary and repeating the same old miserable scenario again and again. In preparation for dysfunctional family encounters, start now by paying attention to what you are thinking and why you are thinking it. Notice what you are feeling and why you are feeling that particular emotion at this moment. Notice your attitudes, actions and words. Why are they happening? How are they connected to your thoughts and emotions?
This is the preparation phase. If you were going to run a marathon you would not likely expect yourself to run 26 miles simply by reading about running. You would have to prepare your body for such an undertaking. Think about your mind in the same way. You have to train your mind to be prepared for the challenges in life. Spending time with dysfunctional people is at least as challenging as running 26 miles. Recognize that. Affirm that for yourself. You will have to train diligently to be prepared.
There’s more to come but for now, practice awareness. Practice being in this very moment and noticing yourself. If being aware becomes too difficult for you, for instance the emotions you feel overwhelm you and you don’t know what to do with them or you cannot access any emotion, get help from a professional counselor or therapist who advocates awareness.