This post is brought to you by my good friend Sara Miller. She and I share life experiences and we once did a crazy experiment together that taught us both a lesson. If you have questions for Sara let me know. Thanks Sara!
Last October, as I drove a small highway to a family event, I found myself getting nervous and anxious about the upcoming weekend with my family. Instead of enjoying the beautiful fall foliage with its colorful presentation of burgundies, oranges, deep purples and reds, I was momentarily distracted by a conversation I had with my older sister earlier in the year. The conversation started out with our normal pleasantries, but it ended with my sister yelling, screaming at me and then abruptly hanging up. What was the trigger for the outburst? I had no clue and was upset that once again our conversation had resolved to this. What got us to this point? Why did we bicker? I often asked myself why she and I could not just agree to disagree. So as I drove down the highway, I realized I was going spend an uncomfortable weekend in her company. I found myself getting agitated and worrying about what I needed to do to make it thru the weekend. I then remembered some of the steps my beloved mother would say and practice with our large extended family during the holidays.
- Give Up Hope: I’m not saying we should not have hope that a family problem cannot be resolved. You just need to be realistic about the situation; an existing family problem will not be resolved in 1 weekend. Be prepared to accept everyone for where they are at now and not where you expect them to be.
- Set a Secure Boundary for Yourself: If you find that your discussion getting heated, you have to find a way to exit gracefully before the conversation evolves into the unwanted heated discussion. This is easier said than done, so recognize the triggers, such as harsh and personal comments/argumentative behavior. Then excuse yourself to make a call, to go to the restroom, the key is to recognize the triggers, and make a graceful exit for 15 minutes. Those trips out the room for a moment actually work.
- Lose control: One of my problems is that I’m a bit of a control freak. Therefore, I had to realize I had no control of another person’s actions. I had to remember any attempt to control another’s actions actually puts me under their control. In situations like this, losing control allowed me to just sit back and relax. I learned letting go of control meant freedom from the drama.
- Become an observer: That weekend I had to learn to just sit back and watch. This step in the social science world is called participant observation. I was amazed by the clarity this gave me. I realized my silence and ambivalence gave others an opportunity to step and lead the family activities. I realized my take charge attitude was perceived by some as controlling and to others it was seen and accepted as a part of who I am. I was happy to watch my younger brother step up and lead the family in activities, he took the role like a true family leader and it was a welcomed reprieve.
- Debrief: It is important to have someone to talk with. Dysfunctional family behavior can lead to depression. So it is important to have someone you can discuss this with to let it all out. Two days after the weekend event, my youngest brother called me. He said he noticed that I was a ‘bit off’ that weekend and wondered what was bothering me. However, he also noticed that my sister was more anxious than normal. He wondered what had happened but, decided to be an observer. He then realized that I had let go and decided to step up to guide the group activities. Once he got the family interacting and enjoying each other, he then realized I was not upset and I was having a good time as well! He and I laughed about the potential mishaps that were avoided by my new approach.
Take time to try these steps at your next family event. Try it for the first hour of the event, and remember it does not mean you are defeated just that you are growing and learning.