As much as we want (or feel obligated) to visit our "folks" at the holidays, many of us are weighed down with family drama. Shackled by the fear of unresolved conflicts getting triggered, old wounds being torn open, and multiple miscommunications devolving into emotional chaos, we often enter the season with more dread than hope.
Fortunately, I have a tool to guide you through your holiday inferno, inspired by the great family therapist Murray Bowen.
Just as you might trim your waistline before summer, so too should you trim your family drama before the holidays. For swimsuit dieters, there are quick, easy and even healthy ways to achieve this trimming. For those of us carrying around a few extra pounds of family drama, there's also a surefire way to trim down -- before getting caught in what I call the "Helliday" flames.
The technique I'm about to share with you is simple as one, two and... well, forget about three. That's it actually. That's the whole technique. Drop the number three from all your family interactions in the days leading up to your family gathering. In other words, "three's a crowd," so don't talk to anyone in your family about any other member of your family. At all. Under no circumstances. Keep all contact one on one.
Just like abstaining from carbs will trim your waist in two weeks, trimming three from your family relationships will decrease your load of "dirty laundry" in the same amount of time. Keep it up between now and New Year's Day, and you'll coast through the holidays like Santa on a sleigh -- minus the heavy load.
I realize that this is easier blogged than done, but I promise you will see results if you are disciplined.
If a relative calls to complain about a prehistoric argument with another relative, change the subject. Keep all dialogue positive, and only on the two of you; do not, under any circumstances, discuss anyone else in the family. This may result in your triangulating relative (TR) to feel rejected. Kindly remind TR that you are very interested in them and their life, but that you simply do not wish to discuss the relative they have beef with; instead, you'd rather hear what's up with them. Your conversations may become much shorter than ever before, and that's just fine. As long as the conversations are positive and dyadic (only focused on you and that other person) you're good.
After trying this (for at least a week), you can help yourself even more by proactively contacting relatives you'll see at an upcoming event, particularly the ones you're only used to connecting with through someone else. Again, these may be short exchanges, but at least you'll have made direct contact, and by abstaining from family gossip, you'll avoid any preemptive fanning of "Helliday" flames. By doing this, you may also even create an unexpected firewall for yourself, if and when family drama erupts.
By the time you arrive at your event, you will already have had brief, positive encounters with each person present. Everyone will know that you're not the person to confide in regarding their smoldering feelings about others present, and since you haven't talked about anyone behind their backs, you can enjoy the levity of having nothing to hide.
Leave the number three to 1) the three blessings while lighting your menorah (for Hanukkah), 2) lighting the three candles of hope and the three candles of struggle (for Kwanzaa), or 3) for setting up the three wise men in your nativity (for Christmas). But trim the number three from your family tree.
For more by Mark O'Connell, L.C.S.W., click here.
For more on emotional wellness, click here.