There are families that enjoy one another and get along well. Family & holidays can be fantastic!
Until they’re not. There are families that are uncomfortable and pretty darn crazy. It happens. Often.
Sometimes it makes sense to suck it up and go anyway. Sometimes it makes sense to end the madness and stay away.
This brings “How would I do that?” and “What would I say?” questions, and “You don’t understand!” and “It’s what we do!” exclamations. All of these are valid and worth considering, but they’re not the place to start.
The preliminary question to answer is one of permission, “Can I do that? It’s family! I can’t do that. Can I?” You can. I don’t know if you will, or if you’re ready, or if it’s helpful. Know that you can.
The awareness of choice is critical. It’s the step that makes all the difference. It opens the door. Regardless if you walk through it, the door is open.
“I can exit these traditional family events. I may still choose to attend this time, this year, but the realization that I can choose not to attend is really good. It’s empowering. It actually helps me be with my family when I have the knowledge that I am not forced to do it. I choose to be with them.”
You have choices. You are not trapped. You are not powerless. You are an adult competent and capable to make decisions. While it sounds like I’m stating the obvious, the reality is that people know it, but they don’t believe it or do it.
When you allow your mind to consider breaking from traditions, that step itself can be the break in tradition that’s needed most.
Parents reprimand, remind, and prod, “Say Thank you.” Learning to be thankful is an important life skill. The inclination to take people and things for granted appears to be human nature.
There’s a wonderful little book about one method for developing the practice, 365 Thank Yous: The Year a Simple Act of Daily Gratitude Saved My Life.The author, John Kralik, has a writing style that’s enjoyable to read.
Life is hard, and for many, that’s an understatement. When dark days come, the last thing we gravitate toward naturally is being thankful.
I’ve heard it said, “If it doesn’t make you bitter, it will make you better.” Even though it’s true, it’s not helpful to push away or deny the negative stuff. If you’re sitting in the middle of crap, see it for what it is. When you’re ready to get out of it, look for what you can learn from it.
What can this situation teach me: about myself, about others, and about life? When I look back at this time of my life, how will I be able to see that it shaped who I’ve become?
With the perspective of 20:20 hindsight, my most challenging times have helped me most. As an example, when I’ve felt personally attacked, it’s allowed me to recognize how active my fear of disappointing others has been triggered. I hate these seasons. They really suck.
At the same time, I gain new roots of self-esteem each time I encounter the pattern. I learn to appreciate the strengths while lessening the need to be affirmed by others.
By the way, I don’t send a Thank You note to those who triggered it in me; I’m not a martyr! Doing my best to wish them well in my heart and mind is not easy, but it is helpful.
I have no clinical evidence for this condition, but I see it regularly.
One person in a relationship sets their own needs aside for the other person. This person assumes the role of door mat. “Go ahead and walk over me – wipe your feet well, and I’ll get myself all washed up and put in place for the next time you need me in this role!”
It is done with loving intentions and often with the logic, “I want you to feel valued. I want you to feel good about you.” The logic is flawed. It doesn’t work, and it generally makes the other person feel less valued. Additionally, both people in the relationship often see themselves in the role without recognizing it in the other.
“I matter” (aka “my feelings matter”) communicates significance. “I know I matter. I choose to be in relationship with because you matter too.” Both people matter…equally.
“I don’t matter” (aka “my feelings don’t matter”) communicates insignificance. “I know I matter, but you matter more. I want you to feel special. Why don’t you feel special? Let me try harder.”
When you set yourself aside for others on a regular basis with the hope that it will inspire change in someone else, it’s not helpful. If someone is willing to be taken advantage of, and they want me to join the club, I want to get distance from them.
After setting our feelings aside in varying degrees, we may hit our limit and want out of the door mat role. “I’m done being the door mat in this relationship! My feelings matter, and you’ve been ignoring my feelings for years! You’ll never change! “
While it’s great to acknowledge our significance, we can still be in the dark. Blinded by our own pride, we become certain that “I’ve done all I can.” We move from one extreme to the other. We over-correct. It can easily slip into feeling like a victim. It’s not necessary to scream, “Don’t walk on me!”
Own responsibility for the choices that have been made. Your needs matter. They don’t matter less than others, but they also don’t matter more.
“How do you do that? How can you describe precisely what I’m feeling? How do you know me?”
This question is asked to me with deep sincerity, and I explain, “It’s because what you’re going through is more normal, more common, than you know. While I understand there are specifics that are different, there is hope to find solutions. It’s gonna be ok.”
“You don’t know me! Even though you have a few things right, you just met me! It’s not that simple!”
These statements are said to me with hurt or frustration. I understand the importance of gathering information, solid listening skills, and the need to feel heard. Their statements to me are true — just not for the reasons that they believe they are true!
Their situation is still common, but they resist it; they benefit somehow from being different, unique, or special. I don’t encounter this often because this type of person is more inclined to figure things out on their own.
Understanding what people have in common with others reduces isolation, validates their experiences, and increases self-esteem. It’s a critical foundation for growth and change.
Experience is how I do it. Effectiveness is why I do it. Efficiency is a side benefit — both of us can quickly identify if we’re gonna work well together.