Whether you’re visiting your family for the holidays, or you see them regularly, conversation can sometimes be challenging or even downright miserable.
Most of us tend to be direct and honest with our family because we are used to them, and we leave out formal politeness and reserve. However, this politeness is what usually gets us through interactions with people we do not know as well.
When we are with our families, we remove this safety net of formality, and the trouble begins because we have nothing healthy to replace it with.
If we all knew ourselves—and loved ourselves—better, this might not be as much of an issue. However, in the current reality, few of us know how to love ourselves and be truly authentic.
So, here are 12 strategies that will help you build your self-love and begin to express your authentic self with your family, and other people in your life as well:
1. When visiting your family, ground first.
Prior to seeing your family, do a grounding exercise or meditation to make sure you are peaceful and solid. You can do this in any private space. If you are traveling, do it in the car (after you have stopped), on the plane, or even better, stop off at a park near your destination and do it there. Grounding will help you to be in a place where you are not judging your family, but doing what is best for you and for them.
2. Picture yourself in a bubble of safety and love.
This is a quick visualization you can do before or during a conversation or encounter. Picture the other person/people and yourself being surrounded by a box or bubble made of love. Imagine that this box has the power to keep everything except love away from both of you. There is no wrong way to do this so don’t think about it too much. Just have the intention of creating a loving, protective shield—whatever that means to you. You can make it a particular color or have sparkles or a shiny coating. Whatever works best for you at the time. This can really help you stay in a calm psychological space.
3. Do not argue with family members—no matter how important it may seem to you.
Do you remember all of those arguments you have won in the past? When your parent or sibling said to you, “You know, now that I think about it, you are absolutely right. You have convinced me.” Stop racking your brain. Because if you are like most of us, this has never happened to you and never will.
It is nearly impossible to convince someone of something during an argument. Generally, the result of an argument is to push the other person further away from you and solidify their beliefs. If you truly think their beliefs are harming them, remember that arguing with them will make their beliefs even stronger, which could harm them more. This idea is explored in The Pilgrimage by Paulo Coelho. You should never take a side. It is not your place to try to change them, just have faith that their growth process is right for them.
4. Don’t even try to convince them.
Don’t try to convince a family member of something, even if it does not seem like arguing to you. If you are trying to change their belief or point of view, you are not truly coming from a place of love and respect. You can share information that may aid them, but it must be done as a genuine offering with no expectations on your part and no attachment to the outcome. I know you may feel that their belief is so dangerous that it will harm people and needs to be changed. Again, remember to keep in mind that trying to change their belief will almost definitely make it stronger and thus, make the situation worse—not better.
5. Always be the adult. Always take the high road.
If you have never truly done this, you will be astounded by how much smoother everything will go. What does this mean? It means always be respectful and polite. It means to keep your vocal tone normal—do not let your voice grow loud or begin to yell. It also means having no agenda, no need to prove your point. Do the mature thing, the right thing. It will help support both you and the other person.
6. Everything you say comes from a place of love.
If you get angry or upset, it is time for a break. Excuse yourself to the bathroom or go for a walk until you can reset. Don’t just treat the person with respect; treat their emotions and thoughts with respect. Even if you do not agree with them or see some potential danger in them, it does not mean they should not be treated with respect. In fact, when you treat someone’s anger with respect it will most likely begin to subside. You don’t need to try to change people, just love them and have compassion for them.
7. Hold yourself like a baby. Hold them like a baby.
Not literally. This means treat yourself the way you would treat a newborn. If someone handed you a baby, how would you treat that baby: physically, verbally, emotionally? That is how you should treat yourself, always—but especially in this context. If you wouldn’t say it to a baby, don’t say it to yourself. If you wouldn’t blame a baby, don’t blame yourself. At the same time, treat the other person in the same way. Try this and see what difference it makes for you. Part of this means paying attention to your own emotional state and knowing when you need to disengage. If the other person becomes angry and begins to cross your boundaries, take a break.
8. Speak to your family members from your authentic self.
This one is not always easy. It can take years to develop this skill, but do your best to express yourself, not just honestly, but from your real self. What does this mean? It means first to be grounded, present, and open.
When you are alone, try this self-love practice. Start by relaxing the muscles in your belly and chest and then opening your arms to the side. Be open to what is outside, but more to what is inside. Accept yourself for who you are. As best you can, love and comfort yourself. No need for perfection here.
When you are with a family member, hold space for yourself with love, hold space for them with love, then speak your truth of how you feel.
Do not get bogged down in details, proof, facts, events, history, or arguments. None of these things will help you. It will probably not be perfect, but speak your own emotions as well as you can.
When we come from a place of thought, we tend to disconnect from others. When we come from a place of emotion, we tend to connect with them. When you express your emotions, offer them gently. Don’t throw them at the other person because you have blame or judgment toward them. If you are blaming or judging, this will undermine the situation and it will not go well. Also, even if you do judge, even for a second, don’t judge your own judgment. This will only make it more difficult to hold a space of love for yourself. The more you love yourself, the more useful you can be.
9. Never speak or behave as if you have all the answers.
This may seem obvious, but most of us have slipped up here once or twice. Make sure not to say explicitly that they do not know what they are talking about, or do not have the facts, or need to be educated, or anything similar. Try not to even feel this way.
If you feel the other person is wrong and you are right, people pick up on this. Then they see you as arrogant, which may cause them to become angry with you. If you find yourself starting to think or feel the other person is wrong, try to replace that judgment with a feeling of love for yourself and for them.
Try to find something beautiful about them, some part of their appearance or a memory of something kind that they once did. This will help you get into a more productive and powerful emotional state. If you are in a place where you just cannot feel love for them, at least feel it for yourself.
10. Always keep a close eye on their emotional state.
If the other person begins to get agitated in any way, you should stop whatever it is you are doing or saying. When people get angry it is generally because they feel attacked. Most likely they are feeling that way because of things not related to you, but the anger may still come your way. At this point, you must behave differently until they begin to relax and their anger can be released or subsides.
The best course of action is often to soothe their fear. You can do this by showing them they are safe and helping to build their confidence. You can find a point to agree on, change the subject to something that comforts them, offer them a compliment or encouragement, tell them you are proud of them, bring up a time when they were successful, or offer them something they like to eat or drink.
11. Share stories about what’s happened to you.
If the other person has a point of view that is clearly violent, destructive, prejudiced, or misogynistic you can, carefully and respectfully, offer them an alternative perspective from a place of love. This must be done as a selfless offering, without attachment to the outcome or agenda.
Check deep within yourself to make sure this is really the case. Often we think we have no agenda, when deep down we actually do. You can share positive personal stories about minorities or whomever it is they fear. It can be beneficial for you to show them that they have similarities and things in common with the people they fear. Tell stories that show these people are actually safe, kind, loving people.
You can take their already existing beliefs and work from there, adding other positive points of view. If they think that Black people are great athletes or Jewish people are smart or any other “positive prejudice,” then you can start from there. I know this is not ideal, but you have to meet someone where they are.
12. Just agree.
For the most part, just agree with them on the big things. But, agree in a way in which you can still be true to yourself. For instance, if you are an atheist you are probably never going to convince a deeply religious person that there is no God. So if you do not believe in God then speak from the closest place you have to that. Don’t be rigid with your vocabulary. Words have lots of different meanings so feel free to interpret them in the way that best suits a loving connection.
For example: Buckminster Fuller talked about the Universe in a way that a religious person may talk of God, so think of God as Universe. Use the word God when you speak to them instead of the word you would normally use, but know that you mean that word to yourself and that, in the end, they are really the same thing.
In this way, you can be truthful and authentic with yourself, but you will not bring up things that are challenging to any of their deeply-held beliefs, which could upset them and push them away from you. If you challenge their beliefs, they will become afraid and this will generally result in anger. If they are feeling angry or judged, you can’t tell them anything, in fact it would be destructive.
In the end, to thrive in stressful situations means holding your boundaries solid and at the same time holding the other person and yourself with love.
Remember, boundaries are not only negative but positive. They not only mean that you need to stand up for yourself if you think something is going to harm you emotionally, but also that you ask for whatever you may need to take care of yourself.
You want to have compassion for the other person but not disrespect yourself in the process. Being grounded and present helps you respect and love yourself. Being kind and polite, finding common ground, and soothing the other person’s fear helps you be truly respectful and loving of them.
If you can use some of these strategies, you will find that your interactions with family will go much better and your time together will be more enjoyable. The same concepts can help you at work and in any relationships you may have.
You now have the tools to turn a potentially miserable experience into a learning experience. Who knows, you may actually have a great time, too!
A guided meditation: