No matter how much personal development and spiritual work you do to break engrained emotional patterns, there’s one situation that often seems to shatter any illusion of progress: being with your family over the holidays.
You meditate daily. You master the art of calm in the eye of the storm. You’ve got this.
You’re sitting around the holiday table, feeling, at last, so adult, so over your old triggers, when suddenly someone says something that triggers your inner critic or inner doubt. In less time than it takes to clear your dessert plate, you’re back to your old thought loops and stories. Then maybe you go the next step into self-judgment, wondering, “didn’t I already work through these limiting beliefs?”
If the thought of getting sidelined at the airport is more appealing to you than spending time with family, here are a few things to remember.
(1) You Are Not Alone.
It’s not just you. Almost everyone goes through a version of this. Even for dedicated travelers on the spiritual path, those of us who are committed to the deep inner work, there’s nothing like being around family to show you how much further you have in your journey.
Before you heap on that serving of self-judgment, try filling up on a little self-compassion.
(2) Old Habits Die Hard
The negative thought loops, self-doubts, old stories and beliefs are habits. And habits are hard to break. Habits are unconscious reactions to a trigger. The trigger might be an event, an action, or a context. In this case, your family dynamic serves as a trigger for those old stories and beliefs. You may have eliminated the thoughts by changing your context and therefore eliminating the trigger. Reexposing yourself to the trigger tells you if you really eliminated those stories.
If you find yourself falling back into old patterns, understand that this is part of the process. Families often reopen many of our old wounds. Each time we experience the pain again, we have another opporunity to heal.
The family dynamic offers you the opportunity to eviscerate that story for good. If you know your triggers and are on the lookout for them, you will be better prepared to steer clear of your habitual reaction.
(3) People Operate From Their Own Fears
For the most part (yes, there will always be outliers), the people who love us don’t intend to inflict pain or self-doubt. Often, they are acting from their own fears and doubts, which have nothing to do with you, and everything to do with how they were raised.
Everyone is at a different level of consciousness. Just because you are doing the work to enhance your awareness doesn’t mean everyone else in your orbit is on that level. Often people say things to us that they don’t realize are hurtful or coming from their own fears.
One friend, an artist and entrepreneur, shared that his family gives him money, but not the emotional support he really craves. They don’t realize that if they offered the emotional support he is seeking, they could help him build the self-confidence that he can succeed.
Instead, they ask questions — like “how will you support yourself?” — that reveal their fears and undermine his confidence.
It’s especially hard when the people you love don’t understand what you do. They may not have a model for it. This doesn’t make them bad or wrong. It just means they can’t give you what you need.
(4) Expecting What People Can’t Give You = Suffering
We create our own suffering when we expect people to support us in a way that they are unable to do.
Part of the process of growing up and going out on your own is to observe, notice, and learn what it is you need, and then find people who can give it to you or ways to give it to yourself.
Sometimes the people you most want to rely on can’t give you what you need because they don’t know how, or they don’t have the resources to help you with what you really need. “Resources” doesn’t necessarily mean money. It could be time, emotion, energy, attention, or simply the ability to hold space.
Whenever I feel let down by relationships, whether with family or otherwise, I like to remind myself:
People do the best they can with the resources they have available to them.
Recognizing that people are doing their best helps me release the expectation that they give me something they don’t have. This is the first step to forgiveness.
If you only remember one tip from this list, remember this one: breathe.
People say insensitive things. They often don’t realize what they’re saying, but sometimes they do. Nobody knows how to push your buttons like your family. After all, they created most of those buttons.
Don’t underestimate the power of your breath. A long, slow, inhale, followed by a long, slow, exhale, will take you out of your head, where anxious thoughts thrive, and into your body. Feel the breath enter you and move throught you. Close your eyes. If necessary, leave the room for a moment.
Give yourself a sacred pause. That pause creates space for you to choose a new response. Maybe that response is silence — sometimes that’s the best way to show your growth.