7 steps to surviving the holidays with your family.

Photo by  Neven Krcmarek  on  Unsplash

"I was just telling you what I thought would make you happy!"

The above sentence is quite possible the best justification out there, and one we often pull out of our pockets during family time over the holidays when things get a little intense. 

It's pretty much a guarantee that if a sentence starts with "I just," an attempt to justify whatever comes after that is being made (with the exception of indicating a recent action that took place, like: "I just got back from a long walk" or "I was just thinking about you."). 

Humans are super complex creatives. We strategically position our lives to try to make everyone else happy. As though we have that sort of power and control. We believe other people have that sort of power and control over us, too. They can make us sad and they can make us joyful. 

Let's say I know that me being myself really pisses off my sister. Something about the life I've chosen for myself really upsets her (you can fill in the blank so it relates to your family). 

It's easy to assume this would be my problem, and not my sister's. That it'd be my job to fit into my sister's idea of what it means to be an acceptable human being for the four days around the holiday we're together so that she can be happy, and then when I'm no longer with my family, I could just go back to being myself again. 

Except this doesn't work. Not only would that not be authentic at all, but in that scenario I'd also be manipulating my entire family, not just my sister, into believing I'm someone I'm not. I would literally be lying about who I was.

This foundational confusion about how human beings work creates a lot of havoc over the holidays. 

We walk on eggshells around family members and do what we can to please them, rather than being ourselves, because somewhere in there we believe we won't be accepted or we'll cause harm if we're ourselves. 

And inevitably, our greatest fear usually comes true anyway by way of a huge blowout fight where someone says "How can you be upset right now, I was just trying to make you happy?!"

Some of us consider the holidays a huge success if we escape this time together unscathed. 

My vision for the world is that we stop celebrating survival and begin celebrating thriving. Yes, even with our families. 

So how do you get to be yourself around your family members without burning the house down? 

Step 1.

Get clear about how you'd like to relate to others. One thing I like to do is remind myself of how I like to relate to other people in my life right before spending time with them (and there are no levels of exclusions - I have a way of being and way of relating that is pretty standard across all humans, including my family). Note how I said "How I like to relate to others" and not "How I want others to treat me." There is a very big and important difference here: the former keeps me in my power, and the latter assumes I'm powerless. 

Step 2.

Practice being in approval of yourself in all your gorgeous flaws. Stand in the mirror and tell yourself how great you are (and notice the different between boosting yourself up with superficial compliments, and being honest with yourself about your unique and winning attributes). When you're on a roll here, this sort of practice will bleed into your ability to be compassionate for others in all their flaws, and to also notice their own unique brilliance. This one comes in really handy over the dinner table when multiple generations and multiple viewpoints inevitably intersect. 

Step 3.

Remember that life is a path, and the path is not linear. We're all at different stages of the path, and we're all on one. If you're struggling to surrender to someone else's path, you're probably also struggling to surrender to your own. 

Step 4.

When you feel inclined to make it about them, reframe it to make it about you. Not only is this a really awesome way of taking responsibility for every single experience you're having, but it also keeps you out of blame, and makes it easier for you to love everyone and to receive their love. 

Step 5.

Listen to other people, especially when they're having feelings, and even if they are struggling to express those feelings. Ultimately, all human beings want to feel heard and seen. Most fights start when we don't feel either of those things and the other person doesn't either. Something as simple as reflective listening and being genuinely curious can really go a long way here. 

Step 6.

Be honest about who you are to your family. You'll learn a lot more about who you are, and about who they are, and they will learn a lot about who you are, and about who they are, if you're the one who is willing to get vulnerable first and share your full self with them. 

Step 7.

Remember that there is no destination. This sort of authentic relating and radical honesty is a path like any other, and all we can do is practice, adjust, and practice some more. What works for me and my family may not work for you and yours, so try some things out, keep your heart open, and pay attention to any attempts you're making to get it perfect on the first try, and then let yourself feel defeated when it doesn't work flawlessly. 

With some time, attention, and care directed explicitly toward connection using the above steps as a guide, things like disagreeing and having different life-paths in one family will eventually no longer be a roadblock to love and you'll soon find yourself overjoyed to spend the holidays with the ones you love.