“To effectively communicate, we must realize that we are all different in the way we perceive the world and use this understanding as a guide to our communication with others.” ~ Tony Robbins
For many, the holiday season and family gatherings can be a time of mixed emotions—joy to the world, festivities, anticipated obligations, and stress.
My childhood was certainly not without drama, heightened by the emotional highs and lows of the adults during our family gatherings. The paternal side of our family was wrought with tension. Any two adults in a room would result in raised voices and heated scenarios about any number of things. If there were more than two in the mix, then best to take cover.
It is because of those experiences that, as tweens, my brother, my cousins, and I made a pact—we called it breaking the family curse. We would not carry on our families’ dysfunctional ways of communication.
To ensure the strength of our convictions, we made a blood promise, pricking our fingers with a pin and mixing our blood.
Our commitment to each other was this: we would not allow the past to control our present. Of course, nothing is perfect. We certainly have had our disagreements, but we have used the power of communication not to allow those differences to disrupt our family gatherings.
Our families, whether extended or blood, have an uncanny way of pushing our buttons. Often it is a knee jerk reaction, and before we know it, old wounds, or those festering, open up, resulting in anger, resentment, or hurt feelings.
Communication is about being heard and transferring information from one to another. When the conversation gets adversarial, each party ceases to hear, wanting only to convince the other of their point of view, resulting in a stalemate. We must find ways in which the people we are speaking to understand, or it is just verbal vomit.
We cannot control the actions or words of others. However, we can control our reactions to them. When we have a lifetime of buttons that have been pushed, this can be challenging.
To navigate those vulnerable areas, we can implement self-awareness in our interactions by merely making a conscious and mindful decision not to overreact.
Nine ways to safely navigate dysfunctional family gatherings:
>> Don’t take the bait. Baiting usually happens when someone is trying to engage you in an argument. Once joined, the table can then be turned on you. Don’t react. By not responding, the conversation can move on. And certainly don’t argue or attempt to appeal to reason.
>> Let go of your need to justify. Past or Present. Justifications can come because we have guilt over an action, we are insecure over a decision made, we want to clarify a situation and may be looking for validation or approval. What has been is over. Move forward. Start fresh today.
>> Slow down. Before you open your mouth, take a deep breath. To speak without careful choosing of our words can often be what stokes the fire leading to disagreements. Listen, then pause before you respond. How you react is within your power.
>> There is no “win” in being right. Remember, a person cannot be wrong about their own beliefs or feelings. The need to be right is a moot point. It will only serve to alienate the other.
>> Let go of your expectations. Having expectations of what you want, usually through rose-colored glasses, will always bring disappointment. When what we envisioned is shattered, heartache, frustration, or defeat may ensue.
>> When confronted with an adversarial tone, walk away, politely, not in a huff. Step outside, get some fresh air, look at the stars, and count to 10. Returning with a new perspective will allow us to redirect the conversation.
>> Don’t fall prey to a conditioned response. Only we have control over how we feel. No one makes us feel anything. We react because we believe someone else’s truth about us is more valid then how we think about ourselves. Knowing ourselves is enough.
>> Most importantly, don’t engage in caustic behavior. There is no better time than now to accept your family with all of their idiosyncrasies.
>> Above all, be kind.
If we want to effect any change in our ability to make family gatherings more enjoyable, we must first step within ourselves. It starts with deactivating the buttons and letting go of the triggers. By changing how we react or, better yet, how we don’t react, will alter how others act toward us. It is a quiet transition, almost invisible. It is a phenomenon of the chain effect. One change will affect the whole.
Family gatherings are an opportunity to connect. To make new memories and share old ones. They can also be a barometer of our spiritual growth. For those on a journey of self-awareness, there is no better place to test if we can really walk the walk and not just talk the talk.