Practice the F-Word: Forgiveness
This might seem a little offensive, but being that the Holidays are around the corner and family dinners are on the horizon, I have some helpful advice on how to come out unscathed when you have less than loving relationships with your relatives.
For the lucky few, holiday dinners can be a pleasant and cozy experience just like the illustrations of a Norman Rockwell painting.
Unfortunately, that’s not the case for most of us. Getting together for the holidays can be brutal when there’s at least one family member–often more–that produce chaos or tension among the group. Undoubtedly, some of us feel alien to our own families.
If you feel this way, this article is for you.
Before I get started, I need to tell you that I wrote a very similar article for a local publication and one of the editors rebuked my submission. In summary, this particular editor told me that the article was off-putting and the concern was whether my article would promote isolation versus establishing family relationships and they questioned whether my article would tarnish the image of the publication if they chose to publish it.
Let me tell you that I don’t need your permission to speak my truth. My aim is to serve. There are more individuals lacking the tools to handle toxic people who just so happen to be either related by blood or marriage. More people get sick around the holidays, and it’s not because of the change in weather. Sadly, being around bullies, toxic or negative family members isn’t just isolated to the one bullied individual. The offenses extend far beyond the one person to their children, partners, spouses, and anyone on the road. Many can be affected. The bullied family member may enter into depression, go on a drinking binge or overeat. So, I’m channeling the people who share two things in common. They cringe at the thought of a family get together and need some practical advice on how to come out unscathed.
Don’t beat your up if your family sucks
Chances are, they have already demoralized, chastised, degraded, diminished and insulted you more than enough times throughout the years, so it’s pointless to do it to yourself. These people make you the butt of their jokes while enlisting agreement from other members of your family.
Sometimes they say horrible things to you in the name of help. I am reminded of a scene in the movie, Saving Private Ryan, where the enemy soldier is compassionately silencing the poor child while he is impaling the kid with a knife. Please don’t second guess yourself either. Odds are that these individuals are extremely artful in how they disguise their meanness.
Their invalidations can be extremely covert. You might not even notice that you’ve been slimed passive aggressively until hours after the get-together.
You’ll begin to notice that you don’t feel so happy. You replay conversations in your head, and you feel anger starting to brew. Sometimes, you are invisible to them. They don’t talk to you, or if they do, they lose attention with you the moment you begin to answer their question. Family brutality can show up in many overt and covert ways. Instead of feeling sadness that you don’t have that Hallmark family, be grateful that you are you and find comfort in the fact that you are not alone.
Now, let’s get down to business.
First of all: Your emotional state is your responsibility.
You must be on a constant state of alertness when around these people. As a life coach, I’m going to give you some counterintuitive advice: USE WHITE LIES. Write a list of extremely crafty white lies that will get you out of the family get together. And, don’t feel guilty about lying because the very definition of white lying is that nobody gets hurt, especially you.
If you are able to “no show,” I highly recommend doing something that you will be eternally the better for, serve your community’s poor with kindness and respect. There are soup kitchens, shelters, and agencies that need your help. Instead of dodging slimeballs with your relatives, play another game: go be of service to your community. You will feel absolutely wonderful and give the gift of hope and spirit of love to this community at large.
If you can’t get out of the entire dinner, then your next step is to minimize your exposure to crazy town. Ask yourself how long you can tolerate being around these people and make up a decent white lie that gets you out before you get slimed. Chaos producers, energy vampires or passive aggressive or covertly hostile individuals can be on their best behavior at least up until dinner time.
My second piece of advice: Let Good Roads and Good Weather be your guide.
To prevent yourself from being harangued, don’t talk about your dreams, your ambitions, political or religious views. In fact, only talk about stuff that can easily be “agreed” upon with your anti-tribe. If you can’t think of anything to say, then listen intently and acknowledge with compassion. If you must engage in a convo, ask them innocuous questions that won’t set them off. Question them about their hobbies, cars, or their children. If you make your questions too personal, you will be walking through landmines. These people don’t want to be “seen” or found out. They don’t want you to know that they operate in fear. It’s all smoke and mirrors.
To that end, create your own smoke and mirrors. Come prepared with answers to questions you know they will inevitably ask. When you deliver your responses, make sure you tone down the delivery to a gentle boredom. Meaning, if you are too excited or interested in something that you are relaying, these individuals become super silver-tongued devil’s advocates to what you say. They are naturals at spinning you and know your buttons. You can easily get caught up in a debate, trying to defend your position. Which will put you in a no-win situation because these individuals thrive in verbal war.
My third piece of advice is to know your 3 P’s.
Prior to the engagement, create your own Purpose, Plan, and Posture for the event and write them down. Ask yourself: what is my purpose for attending this event? To enjoy myself, to be fully present. What is your plan? I will listen, acknowledged and say only good roads, and good weather type things. I will tend to the children, tidy up and be of service. What posture will help you remember your purpose and plan? I will remain in confidence and compassion. My sternum up, a pleasant expression on my face. Keeping this posture will remind me that I am here of my own choosing and I am prepared for anything. Remember your 3 P’s and take time to write them out. If you have a spouse that will be attending, include him or her in your plan.
My last piece of advice may seem trite. Please practice forgiveness and let it go.
Forgive yourself first and then forgive them. While this may seem difficult to swallow, sometimes we can be guilty of the things in which we are accusing others. And, this is the part that stings. It’s unnatural to think of ourselves as bullies, or being passive aggressive or overtly mean. Maybe we did these kinds of things in the distant past, and these family members are reminding us of our actions. It’s ok. Forgive yourself and let it go. Free yourself from any wounds and ask for forgiveness. It’s still true that some members of your family or relatives can still be offensive and cruel. And the larger truth is, sticks and stones may break your bones, but words will never hurt you. All these people have are words, and you can choose not to let those words hurt you.
It is possible for all of you who have challenging relationships with your family members to have a peaceful and celebratory holiday season. May the implementation of these tools serve you well. Remember to write down and practice your 3 Ps and forgiving yourself for whatever you’ve done in the past and forgive your family or relatives for what they’ve done, too.
I’m sending love and kindness to you as we approach the holiday season. I hope these tips have given you some insight into how to make this year the best one yet! How do you plan to practice the F-Word with yourself and your family during the holidays? Let me know in the comments below.