(This is reposted from last year. It is always good to have a reminder before heading into a storm. - Paul)
“If you think you are enlightened, go spend a week with your family.” -- Ram Dass
“You have a choice either to be right or to be kind.” -- Wayne Dyer
With the holiday season approaching, many of us will be participating in family gatherings. While many families have wonderful times together, others don’t. Family members can drive you crazier than anyone else on the planet.
If you want to have a better holiday experience, and a better life experience in general, you might want to consider a new approach to dealing with challenging or difficult people.
You’re Messing With My Zen
Family members are great at pushing your buttons because they made your buttons. Your conditioned reactions to just about everything in life started when you were a child, and your family members probably had a lot to do with it.
If you have a difficult relationship with a family member (or anyone), there is probably a set pattern to your interactions together. Sister says X, then you respond with Y, and then suddenly there is an argument, just like so many times before.
Remember, these patterns exist as part of the battle for energy that started when you were very young. Observe two-year-olds fighting over a toy and you will understand this. These patterns are still inside us. Your subconscious remembers everything.
Break The Pattern
The main thing I teach people is to look inward to find our success, the solutions to our problems and our life’s purpose. Your innermost self wants peace.
As Wayne Dyer said, in almost every situation, you have the choice to be right, or to be kind. If you want to have peace, choose being kind.
Being kind breaks the pattern of confrontation. It takes two to tango. So if someone is trying to start a fight with you and you don’t dance their dance, there won’t be a fight. Trying to be right only feeds energy into the confrontation.
This can be challenging. Firstly, our egos always want to be right. Especially with family members.
“This need to be right comes from the ego. The ego is the part of ourselves that says that I am separate from everything else.” -- Wayne Dyer
Secondly, it is very easy to slide back into the old patterns we have had since childhood. Sooner or later there will be some trigger and you will find yourself falling into the trap of someone’s control drama, and that includes your own. A control drama is basically a mechanism people use to steal another person’s energy by trying to control them.
Observe your own or other people’s behavior. What is the control drama? Once you see what it is, then you will be in a better situation to avoid it.
You Be the One to Change
"Listen, smile, agree, and then do whatever the #@$% you were gonna do anyway.” -- Robert Downey, Jr.
You can not change another person, you can only change yourself. So, if you want to change the dynamic in your family situation, you have to change. The other person won’t.
This takes awareness, patience and kindness.
Think of it this way: there is a very old dance in your family dynamic. Throw in a few in-laws and you can have a chaotic mass of people consciously or unconsciously trying to steal each other’s energy. This is done either passively, aggressively or in combinations.
Nobody wants to be controlled by another, so this dance continues on and on.
If you don’t like this situation, then don’t dance. Thick books have been written on this topic, but let’s keep this simple -- follow Dyer’s advice. Be kind.
You won’t be able to change Uncle Tony’s politics. So don’t try. You don’t even have to like Uncle Tony, but remember, he is a soul on his journey through this life just like you. He has all the same feelings, desires and contradictions inside just like you. Let him be himself, and you be yourself.
So, instead of falling into the old trap that leads to an argument, try something different. Try simply being kind.
You Don’t Have to Be a Saint
One of the great challenges I have had in my life is overcoming this need to be right, especially with members of my family. Although I have come a long way, I still sometimes slip back into my old patterns. When I catch myself, I apologize and try to make the situation better. Sometimes I am more successful than others. Such is life.
Be kind to yourself in this process. People are not perfect, and that includes you. If you fall back into an old pattern, acknowledge it and move on. Our conditioned reactions to our family members are our oldest conditionings, which make them some of the most difficult things to change.
One trick that I use when I am in such situations is to imagine that I am living in a Woody Allen movie. When I do this, it is much easier for me to see the humor of it all. Being too serious just isn’t any fun. Seriousness is highly overrated.
If They Are Too Toxic, Then Don’t Go
Some families are extremely toxic. If you think that it will be sheer living hell going to a family gathering, then don’t go. Really. Just because you share DNA with someone does not mean you have to subject yourself to toxic relationships or abuse.
There will probably be fallout from this, but if your family is that toxic, the fallout will be a lot less than suffering and psychological damage done by going to the gathering. If your family is that bad, you might want to consider getting professional help from a licensed therapist. I also help people deal with these sort situations.
As in boxing, the Number One Rule is to protect yourself. If you can not protect yourself, then nothing else matters.
You are the master of your own life. No matter what other people say, you make your own choices. You are a free person.
Remember to Enjoy It
We couldn’t control the family we were given. And we can’t control other people. We can control our attitude to any given situation. Go in with a positive attitude and you are more likely to come out of the situation feeling positive. You never know, you might even have a great time.
My wife reminds me of this everyday when she tells me before I do any task: “Enjoy it.”
Angela Moreno Acosta is a Venezuelan illustrator, writer and comic artist based in Kyoto, Japan. She specializes in creating magical custom illustrations for websites, blogs and publications.