Ever feel a sense of dread heading into a family gathering? With so many different personalities and generations entrenched in unrecognized dysfunction, the holidays are sure to make for some uncomfortable or maybe even lively interactions! Once you start getting healthier yourself, how do you interact with the people who helped you to be unhealthy in the first place and not go there yourself? Surprisingly, getting along with your family for the holidays is easier than you might think!
The simple answer? Self-Differentiation. What I mean by that is a spirit of “I am different than you and you are different from me and that is okay.” Self-differentiation’s key ingredient is acceptance. . . acceptance that the people we are dealing with are broken and don’t recognize their own unhealthiness. People that have not been through recovery simply don’t get it – not because they don’t want to, but because they just can’t see that their behavior is unhealthy! We all developed very primitive coping mechanisms to deal with the unhealthy situations in our childhoods. We then them into their adult lives not understanding how unproductive and hurtful they can be! Once we are able to see it, we can change, but not everyone can see their own dysfunction!
I know it is hard, but we simply MUST stop assuming that when someone hurts us that hurting us was their intention! My experience is that most times, people are acting out of their own brokenness and with unhealthy coping mechanisms to deal with their own pain – not out of intention to hurt us. When we can be mature enough to recognize that little fact, we can begin to respond differently ourselves.
The second piece of this equation is about boundaries. Going back to the first part of my definition of Self Differentiation, we have to remember that we are all separate and we get to keep our own power. No one can make us do anything! A lot of times we get very uncomfortable when we feel guilted or manipulated into doing something we didn’t want to do! When we stay true to what we want, what we are willing to do or not do, and remember that we get to choose how we respond to things, we feel less threatened because we are retaining our own power.
Self-Differentiation takes both pieces into account, basically it looks like this . . . I’m going to do what feels right and good to me (keeping my power), and you (family member) get to respond in whatever way you need to (acceptance). BOOM! It’s that easy!
If you are facing some complicated family situations this year at the holidays, rather than expecting the people around you to change, adjust your own approach instead! Retain your own power and accept that others don’t recognize the unhealthy patterns in your family. They are simply doing what has worked in the past and the only thing that has changed is that you have recognized it was unhealthy and decided to stop. Expect there to be some resistance and let other people feel what they need to feel about that! And while they may not get healthier, over time your family will most likely adjust to allow you to be healthier around them!
Peace is possible to achieve at your family gatherings, but it has to begin with YOU!