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Home for the Holidays

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Home for the Holidays
(click for podcast) (6:55 min.)

With a bunch of holidays coming up, many of us will be getting together with family. For some this is a joy, and for some it can turn into a bit of a nightmare. There's a strange dynamic that seems to be quite common; everyone reverts to an earlier time, when we and our relationships were quite different. Not only do our parents often treat us like we're still kids, but we can start acting like we are as well.

One of my favorite movies showcases this entire concept brilliantly, and I highly recommend it. 1995's "Home For The Holidays," directed by Jodie Foster, with Robert Downy, Jr., Holly Hunter, Charles Durning, Anne Bancroft, and many other great actors really brings it to life. Poignant, aggravating, heartfelt, and very funny, Foster gives us the full spectrum of emotions and behaviors when adult children go home for the holidays. 

I know so many people who get frustrated and upset with how they're treated, that I felt it would be helpful to know how universal this is. There's no reason to feel guilty about wanting to run away or tear your hair out. You're not alone; the holiday season is often a particularly stressful time. Family gatherings spark family dynamics, and sometimes things get out of hand. We often have a lifetime of hurt feelings and unresolved issues standing in the way of connecting the way we want to connect.

Old stuff comes up, and we have neural pathways that are engrained habits. We may have done all kinds of personal development work and grown up to be responsible adults, and yet parents bringing up embarrassing moments from our past or talking to us like we're still kids can still regress us.

We generally want to "fix" things, and get them to see us as we are now, but this gets harder when we're triggered into the reactions of our younger selves. You can think of it as a new perspective on your boundaries. As we mature, we hopefully get better at setting boundaries. With our families, they were already "in the yard" before we built any fences. 

Have you ever noticed how the opinions of our family members seem to hold more weight than the opinions of others? If an "outsider" is disappointed in us, we're perhaps bothered a bit, but it doesn't knock us for a loop. When family says they're disappointed in us, it strikes much harder. Knowing this in advance, as well as understanding that it's a normal dynamic caused by that lack of boundaries when we were toddlers, we can prepare in advance for how we want to respond. 

One of the problems we face when trying to "fix" someone's perception of us, is the lens they're looking at us through. If their perception is of you at 15, when you were being irresponsible and rebellious, no matter what you say or do, it will go through that filtering lens, and the perception will get distorted to fit that old narrative. If someone is wearing dark red sunglasses, and is insisting that you're a redhead, there's really no way to convince them otherwise. You’re telling them that their perceptions are wrong. You'll just dig yourself in deeper, and they'll start to add that you're trying to fool them on top of everything else. This makes the misunderstanding worse, as now we've added the element of mistrust. 

In a way, we're almost heading into Al-Anon territory. This is very much an example of "you can't talk to the problem about the problem." So, we have to look at these gatherings individually, and plan accordingly. One filter we can use is the Serenity Prayer. If we can't change something, we're going to need to learn to accept it. 

What we can do is maintain our maturity, authenticity, and presence. If this isn't enough to prove to others who you are, then it's about them, not you. There are some things you can do that will mitigate some of this frustration. 

I've often espoused the power of asking questions in place of making statements (especially accusatory ones) to minimize the amount of defensiveness that triggers. Instead of trying to "correct" them in their misperception, try asking them how they arrived at that conclusion. See if you can get them to outline the logical structure of their argument. If it's not true today, but only reflecting ancient history, you can ask how that relates to today. Are they the same person they were back then? 

Of course if you get into one of those "damned if you do – damned if you don't" situations, it's time for that Serenity Prayer again, and a bit of acceptance, as hard as that might be. Once we do let go, a sense of freedom and lightness arrives, but only if we really let go. If we’re clear on who we really are; as the embodiment of our values, we can keep our feet firmly planted, and not need to correct anyone's opinions. We can maintain our sense of Self when we go "home for the holidays."

Want to learn more about how to become the best you possible? How your communication can hold you back or catapult you forward?
Come visit the web site, or better yet, contact me and see how we can design a program to fit your needs and desired outcomes.

     - Ian J. Blei


November Offer -

We're about to hit the Holiday Season, and as is my annual Thanksgiving tradition, the "Cornucopia of Goodies" is back. Along with huge savings on Discovery Sessions, I'm extending the sale on "Kind Ambition," (great stocking stuffers, if you're planning in advance) and the headliner: the Holiday Family Communication Triage Package. Come on over to the site for details, and fee free to give me a call or get on the calendar if you have any questions. We'll light some light bulbs!

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He combines his extensive knowledge of integral theory, the Enneagram, and neuroscience, in a seamless way (truly a Grand Unifying Theory of Everything), and helps you apply this greater understanding to whatever matters to you. He helps you build the trellis which you can hang any flower on that you choose.." - P.R., - S.F.


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