Re-posted From: http://KindCommunication.org/2013/12/16/the-family/
This is the second part in my three part series on “The Holidays”. Last time we looked at giving and getting more than presents this year. And now I’m going to look at the tradition of seeing the family.
At the beginning, I’d like to recognize that some people won’t be seeing their families this holiday season and that may be very, very painful for them. I just want to empathize with how hard, painful, isolating, lonely, and sad this holiday season can be for you.
But for those who are going to see their family, I want to go over three major issues that come up for people seeing their families. One I hear all the time is that they wish there was more openness and vulnerability in their family, less small talk and niceties. The second thing I hear is how people feel like they revert to a younger version of themselves when they’re around their families, and can’t remember their NVC skills at all. And third, I hear people wanting to forgive family members and move on, but don’t know how.
“How do I have more openness, vulnerability, and authenticity in my family?”
You would really like to feel closer to and more connected to our families. Closeness and connection really comes from being seen, understood, and accepted. And the only way to even have a chance of being seen, understood, and accepted is by showing up as yourself. You need to be willing to make the first move. Be open about your life, share your vulnerabilities with your family, and be your authentic self. Of course, there is nothing we can do to ensure that our family members give us acceptance or understanding. They may not be willing or able to, and coming to terms with that can be quite painful and hard.
“How come when I see my family I fall back into old patterns, and can’t remember any skills I’ve learned?”
A natural question after that first one. I’ve told you that if you want more authenticity, openness, and vulnerability in your family that you have to make the first move. But in the moment when you’re sitting at dinner and someone speaks that dreaded word or phrase you’ve heard since childhood….all of a sudden you find yourself acting the same way you’ve acted for decades. First, just give yourself some empathy here. It’s very hard to overcome old behavior patterns, especially when you don’t feel supported by the people around you in making those changes. And when you get triggered to a young childhood memory, of course your mind goes right back to the pain and suffering you felt then, leaving the present entirely.
And so I encourage you to in those moments self-empathize with yourself. Pause, take a breath, and empathize with the pain you’re feeling. Befriend that negative emotion. And even if you’ve already acted the way you always have, and the moment seems to have passed, you can always go back and do a redo. Simply say the person “You know, when I did x, y, and z a moment ago…it really wasn’t in integrity with my deeper values. I’d like to try to express myself a little differently. If I could do it again, I would have said…” Don’t think of “mistakes” as failures, but as opportunities to practice your skills.
“I want to forgive my family and move on…but how?”
This is challenging indeed, but if you can do it, you will find it is very rewarding. Begin by recognizing and befriending your own feelings and needs. What exactly did your family member do that hurt you? Can you describe it in photographic, observational language stripped away of all evaluation and interpretation? If not, then you need to empathize with your own feelings and needs more. Once you can see what the other person did as an objective third party might, then try to empathize, try to understand, what the other person was feeling and needing in that moment. What was their action intended to accomplish for themselves? How were they feeling in the moments leading up to that action?
And once you can befriend and empathize with how they were feeling and what they needed. Then you can say “I forgive you.”
KindCommunication.org is a project by a close friend of Wiki World Order, Alex Leach. WWO fully supports the study, practice, and teaching of non-violent communication as one of the core solutions which already exists.