This time of year many of us find ourselves sitting across the table from a family member we don’t enjoy being around. As the saying goes, you can’t pick your relatives. But does that mean we have to quietly endure?
If you are anything like me, the anticipation of encountering difficult relatives can be so powerfully negative that your stomach tightens just thinking about those contentious conversations around the dinner table.
And for some of us, the worst part isn’t even the arguments, but rather how invisible we feel. Why is it that the conversations too often turn to embarrassing moments from our childhood? Meanwhile our adult accomplishments go unnoticed. Apparently, some of our relatives would rather stay stuck in the past than see us for who we are today.
But even though you can’t change those relatives that cause you discomfort, there’s no reason you have to suffer this holiday season. There are steps you can take to ensure you have a wonderful time no matter how obnoxious some members of your family might be.
Instead of simply tolerating negative interactions, you CAN navigate your relatives in a way that builds connection while empowering yourself to show up fully as your precious, unique self! You do not have to tolerate slights and insults. You don’t have to avert your eyes and hold your breath hoping the torture will be over soon.
It all begins with healthy boundaries but with one crucial twist: you need to know how to assert your boundaries while drawing others closer to you. That might seem counterintuitive but if you think about it, one reason we don’t assert our boundaries is that we want to maintain connection.
And what most don’t realize is that you can assert boundaries AND create even more connection!
The essential ingredients to a healthy boundary include:
1. Keep the focus on your feelings and behavior
2. Decide what you find acceptable and unacceptable treatment of you
3. Assert your healthy boundaries by calmly communicating them to others
4. Know what actions you will take if your boundaries are violated
5. Follow through by taking those actions when your boundaries are violated
However, if you simply assert your boundaries, you are likely to create distance with your loved ones instead of drawing them closer to you. That’s why you want to follow your healthy assertions with what I call a “redirect.” This is one of the five steps in my Exquisite Partnership Formula™ and it really works to create heart connection with even the most difficult personalities.
Here’s how that can work with a problematic relative. Let’s say your uncle is intent upon converting you to his religion because he fears you are going to hell. This actually is a recurring theme in my family of origin! My way of dealing with that is to assert my boundaries by refusing to engage the topic. I simply say “I hear you.” And then I redirect the topic by asking my pesky uncle something about his life. It’s a very effective maneuver because everyone likes to talk about themselves. Helping my uncle get the focus back on himself is a gentle reminder that my spiritual life is my business. But I don’t say that because that would invite an argument. Instead I live my boundary by refusing to engage his topic while continuing to seek connection with a different topic.
If you are able to show up fully, speak your truth honestly, assert your boundaries with comfort, and accept the boundaries of others without fear or resentment, then you are well on your way to creating healthy and life-affirming relationships.
Everything begins with healthy boundaries. But don’t stop there. Make an effort to initiate heart connection by introducing topics that are enjoyable for both you and the other person.
Fully showing up as yourself when you are with your family of origin can be daunting. But healthy boundaries really are the key. And when we honor our own boundaries, we are better able to honor others’ boundaries as well.
We don’t need to convince or cajole or attempt to “win” an argument. And we don’t need to simply bite our tongue and seethe with anger under the surface. We can express our truth, show up fully as our unique self and detach from the actions and words of others.
If you want more tips for showing up fully in your life and your relationships, check out this article on YourTango
You can find my expert advice on how not to let fear stop you if you scroll down to #44 on the list!