Thanksgiving is a time for coming together, but for some, it can also be a time of stress. Several of my clients, these past couple weeks, have been asking for tools on how to navigate their upcoming holiday family gatherings. I suspect all of us desire to be on our best behavior; vowing to interact as our adult selves; more rationally, more peacefully, and from less of a triggered state. I’m confident that a majority of us want an open, warm, family setting, where we are able to freely flow the love we feel for those present.
So often, it seems, we are trying to maintain a role within our family. We’ve assigned ourselves the role of the peacemaker, or the challenger of ideas, or the worrier of accommodation, or the loner, or the listener; the list goes on. These roles likely stem from what we have honed over the years that has proven the most successful at achieving the desired outcome we are seeking. But honestly, wouldn’t it be nice to just be you?
Do you feel like you hold a sense of belonging within your family? Do you feel like you are allowed to be honest about who you are and receive acceptance? Do you feel like the love you offer is able to be received? Do you feel responsible for other peoples’ happiness or sense of ease? Do you feel heard? What impacts your happiness? Who controls your happiness? Do you believe other people can make you feel certain emotions? Do you believe you have any control of others’ emotions? What makes you believe that? Do you know what triggers your upset? What if I said, it’s not a person, but rather a challenge to a held belief.
When we assume the responsibility of other peoples’ emotions, we are assuming we somehow know all of their millions of nerve connections that were wired when they were merely infants and young children. It’s simply not possible, as we can never fully know what makes another feel fulfilled, or triggered, no matter how well we feel we know them. What we can know though, is how our behavior and reactions soothe or stir them. We can’t always know the why, but we can know the how… likely from years of pushing those soothing or stirring buttons.
One of the key tools that I work with clients on is helping them to step out of their own emotions, and into the world of curiosity. Ever notice how often people say the phrase, “You know.” “You know?” “You know what I mean?” “You know what I’m saying?” Personally, I suspect that beyond the ingestion of constantly hearing it around us, that it truly stems from people not feeling heard. If we follow up our statement with, “You know?” we are more likely ensuring a response to our thoughts. Most people, it seems, want to be engaged with their thoughts, to illicit a conversation about something that they have dwelled on, or that intrigues them. And the truth is, rarely are people listening to each other. I’ve touched on this before, discussing how we, in our attempt to create connection, often follow-up someone’s statement with something in our own life that is comparative. But, in doing so, we’ve, one, made the assumption that we understand the other’s statement, and two, hit the pause button on their sharing. This is why I continuously hear, “That person only talks about themselves.” While that person may be narcissistic, they may also simply be thinking they are creating connection by expressing something they share in common.
By quieting your inner sharer, and merely becoming curious about what the other person is sharing with you, you are disengaging your potentially triggered emotions, and learning to better understand exactly what it is that they are saying. Don’t assume you know what, “difficult times,” or “it was wonderful” means, but rather, ask them to tell you what made it difficult, or what made it wonderful. Lovingly dissect their words to get a greater understanding of what emotions and thoughts lie behind their words.
This takes practice. Consider it as strengthening your non-reactivity muscle. The more you work at it, the easier it becomes. And honestly, the more you listen, the more you might be able to hear the true intentions behind another’s actions, and the trigger you assumed, may not be at all what you imagined.
Wishing you and your family a very joyous Thanksgiving!