Dealing With Family Dysfunction

DfunctionFamFor some, the thought of spending time with family during the holidays, or really anytime during the year, is something to look forward to. For others, the mere thought makes you want to cringe and pray for an illness that will give you an excuse to stay away. Praying for illness may seem a bit extreme to some but I’ve been in that frame of mind on a few occasions when the reality of having to spend time with the in-laws loomed large on my horizon. Granted, that was before I became more “enlightened”, received my mind, body wellness degree and stripped off all of my own emotional baggage, but still, I know the feeling. And it ain’t good.

Whatever the reality is for you, here are some tips for dealing with family dysfunction:

1.      The Problem:  Expectations
Any time you get a group of people together there is a certain level of expectation that comes with it. We all want to enjoy our holidays and have a good time when we get together- but the definition of what that means and looks like is unique to each person. Get all those expectations together in one place and it creates a giant bowl of expectation soup that leaves a large risk for disappointment. When families end up bickering or fighting during the holidays, it’s often because of this one key element.

The Solution: Let Go Of Expectations
You can’t control their actions but you can master your own. No matter what your past experience with your family, good or bad, just let it go. Refuse to add your expectations to the soup. Allow yourself to just relax. Decide to be OK with whatever happens and that, no matter what, you will go with the flow. If it helps, imagine that you don’t know any of the people you are about to spend time with. As if you’re just showing up for something to do. When you’re able to step outside of yourself and the history you have with your family, it allows you to “show up” in the present moment. When you leave expectations behind and exist in each moment, you’re likely to have a much more enjoyable experience!

2.      The Problem:  Short-changing Yourself
Family functions can be draining, physically and emotionally. What’s more, the preparation leading up to the event and the event itself can really throw us off our schedules and health habits. The result can leave you feeling tired, grumpy, drained and, sometimes, resentful.

The Solution: Focus On You!
Giving is wonderful and “taking one for the team” is admirable but not when it ruins the experience for you and leaves you dreading the next event. This is where “know thyself” can really come in handy. You know what you need to function at your best. Make sure that you’re putting yourself first on your to-do list.

3.      The Problem: Judging Others
We’re all guilty of judging other people and family is certainly no exception. But did you know that when we judge others, we are simply noticing in them what we’re capable of ourselves (not that we act on it- but we’ve thought about it or have the ability to act on it). The problem with judging others is that it immediately changes your energy and mood into something negative. It also strips you of your power to change your experience or interaction with that person.

The Solution:  Check Your “Inner Mirror”
Reclaim your power by using that moment to learn something about yourself. Ask yourself, “What does my judgment of them, tell me about myself?” Have you worked hard at not doing something or being a certain way and feel upset because they aren’t doing the same? Maybe they have different values than you do and they’re not respecting something important to you? Perhaps they have a quality you want for yourself and you’re feeling jealous or worthless because you don’t have it?

The awareness you gain about yourself is priceless and crucial for self-growth. It will also lead to a better understanding of those you judge and likely, a happier holiday or family event.

4.      The Problem:  Apathy and Intolerance
It’s family. You’ve known these people for a long time. You’ve heard all the jokes, the stories, the whining and the bragging a million times. So you tune out, roll your eyes, sigh, whisper complaints under your breath or conspiratorially with another family member and you keep one impatient eye on the clock.
You may not do all of these things, but admit it…you do at least one of them. Apathy and intolerance are a tag team of misery. When you engage in the acts of this gruesome twosome, you drag yourself and everyone around you down. You also rob yourself of an opportunity to feel empowered.

The Solution: Be Giving
Give yourself and your family four valuable gifts. The gifts of: listening, forgiveness, appreciation and acceptance.Listen with open ears, mind and heart. Really hear what your family member is saying to you and show them that you’re listening by responding positively.

Forgive the annoying habits or transgressions of the past by being in this moment and sharing it with them.
Appreciate the good and the positive qualities that each family member has. Tell them or show them that you appreciate them in some way while you’re together.

Accept everyone as they are. No matter how imperfect and annoying they may be. We can’t change others, only ourselves. Allow yourself this opportunity to change your own behavior and you’ll be amazed at how good you’ll feel. During and after.

If utilizing all of these tips seems a bit overwhelming to you, choose just one or two to work on. Who knows- at your next family gathering you may actually have a wonderful time!

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