by Patrick J. Harbula
you getting together with members of your family of origin
for the holidays this year? Did you come from a family that
was dysfunctional in any way? Do you have any ongoing rifts
between you and one or more of your family members? If you
answered no to any of these questions, then disregard this
column. If you answered yes to all of them, then read these
helpful tips and make this the best holiday season ever.
Expect things to be different: I don’t mean that you
should get caught up or attached to an expectation of your
more challenging relatives changing completely, but simply
going into your holiday get-together embracing the possibility
that if you change your beliefs about your relatives that
they may respond differently to you. We tend to create ongoing
relationship friction by expecting people to be the same as
they were years ago when we knew them best. Everyone grows
(at least to some degree), and if we are open to experiencing
the changes in others, we change our expectation. I have had
countless clients and students have absolutely miraculous
results practicing this simple strategy. They couldn’t
believe how much those other people had changed (in reality
it was their own change that inspired a different interaction
with their loved ones).
2. Respond differently: If your family members treat you the
same as they have in the past, even after embracing an alternate
expectation, respond differently than you have in the past.
For example: If your mother or father start to push your childhood
buttons by lecturing, criticizing, or somehow making you feel
embarrassed, remember that they aren’t only your parents,
they are people with insecurities and fears just like everyone
else. We will not be treated by our parents (or anyone else
for that matter) as adults until we stop reacting the way
we did when we were children. If you feel criticized you could
communicate that without getting into the defensiveness. Or
if you have particularly forceful and relentless relatives,
simply say, “I would prefer to talk about something
more positive.” Don’t give people the opportunity
to draw you into old dynamics that you are no longer willing
to participate in.
3. Decide to be proactive: When we react negatively to the
faults of others, we only trigger stronger expression of those
faults. When we recognize that we can be proactive rather
than reactive, then we help to encourage the strengths in
others. When we respond from our strongest, most compassionate
selves, we recognize the weaknesses in everyone as an opportunity
to shed light on those imperfections. Great teachers and compassionate
leaders see imperfection as an opportunity to serve rather
than something to turn away from. We can emulate such teachers
as Mother Theresa and Gandhi by being proactive.
Visualize what you want: We can greatly affect the outcome
of any event or experience by having a clear image of what
we want to occur. This is a simple but profound technique
used by athletes and successful men and women in every field.
Everything that is created or realized begins as an image
(conscious or unconscious). The clearer and brighter your
image, the greater affect it will have on the outcome. Simply
sit down, close your eyes and visualize the ideal holiday
celebration. If images don’t come easy to you, then
imagine what the ideal holiday would feel like. Include your
sense of smell and touch as well, which is especially helpful
with holidays involving great food.
5. Take responsibility: A great deal of conflict results from
the practice of blaming others. While we can’t be responsible
for everything that occurs in a relationship, we can take
responsibility four our side of any conflict and for our response
to what is not our responsibility. Many people don’t
want to take responsibility because they confuse it with self-blame.
They don’t want to be wrong because they tend to self-criticize.
Of course we won’t take responsibility if it feels so
lousy. Blaming throws power away. Responsibility generates
power from within. Blame denotes fault. Responsibility denotes
responsible action. It means that with the understanding I
now have, I will do everything I can to make certain that
this action or occurrence doesn’t happen again. It doesn’t
mean that I will feel bad and guilty for what I have done
in the past.
Oaks, CA 91360