No matter how much we grow up and find our own way through life, there’s nothing like a family reunion to trigger long-buried feelings of rivalry, resentment, prejudice and hurt.
Jenny’s brother refuses to acknowledge her success. Frank’s father is always putting him down. Paula judges her step-sister’s every move. Jack and his brother are both in their sixties but they still bicker like kids. And then there’s the nasty stuff that no one wants to acknowledge — stubborn resentment, deep loathing, physical and sexual abuse. It’s more common than you think.
You’d think our most childish behaviour would be the easiest to let go of, but in fact the very opposite is true. Think about it. Within the undemocratic walls of the family unit we learn our most basic social habits by relentlessly testing each other’s limits. Mom and Dad are supposed to be above the fray, but they lose their cool too, and some people are only quiet when they get their way. Sometimes it’s just easier to give in. By the time we’ve learned to cope with all that, life finds us subconsciously replaying old patterns, over and over.
The toughest habits to break are the ones that have been with us the longest, and the problem is that the various levels of aggression and submission, silence and denial we learned as children resurface in the way we deal with others, no matter how old we are.
The worst part is, they don’t seem like habits at all; they feel quite simply like who we are. Once the family labels us as clever or stupid, kind or selfish, pushy or passive, we identify with or fight with those labels. Either way, it’s baggage.
These deep-seated habits push us through life, into and out of situations, with less free will and more automaticity than we care to admit. Mostly, we suffer the consequences in silence; no one wants to admit their weaknesses. The trouble is, we’ve actually lost more freedom than we realise.
It doesn’t have to be that way. As children we all had a natural curiosity about our own mind and how it works. The innate skill of mindful reflection can be rekindled and cultivated into a source of inner clarity and strength. It enables you to see and change how you feel about your family, and how you deal with them.
Once that process is underway you’ll want them to treat you differently too. Sure enough, alter the family dynamics and change is inevitable. However, you never know quite how it’ll play out.
Mindful reflection helps with that too by putting your expectations on the back burner and enabling you to embrace life’s uncertainty.
Four-week mindful reflection workshop dealing with family stress over the holidays, starts this week Thursday evening November 21st at 7:45 pm. More information here.