We can’t really alter the way someone else behaves, nor is that our job in life, but we do want to be aware of our own behavior and change it when we realize it is making us unhappy. One place to start is often achieved by letting go of long-term knee-jerk reactions to holiday gatherings, or any family gathering, and feeling peaceful, instead. What does that mean? In the end, we decide what happens around us. If we want harmony, we can create it without losing our own integrity and boundaries. The idea is not to think we have to please everyone, which is impossible, but to let them be who they are without judgment on our part. Doing this can change everything, if not for them, then for us.
It isn’t so easy to separate ourselves from the drama of predictable negative family situations when they arise. But the key lies in our desire to feel at ease within ourselves enough so that we are willing to detach from the role we usually play at such times. In the end it can be very simple: Do we want to be right, or do we want to be free? Which matters most to us in how we live?
In truth, our purpose isn’t to accept the role the family has assigned us, and all of us get assigned one, a role we’ve probably accepted without thought until now. Our purpose is to be who we are no matter what is going on. We stop trying to prove anything to anyone. We let go of the baggage of memory that we have let program our reactions. Here are 5 suggestions on how to change old behaviors:
Do we show up with anxiety to family gatherings? Perhaps it is worry about spending time with the in-laws or our parents or our siblings. Do we feel like the outsider in the family, or are we the one everyone expects to be happy-go-lucky all the time? Perhaps we are seen as a troublemaker. Or do we expect to be put down or have our job ridiculed? Or do we make too much money or too little for the others to find okay?
What if, during the family gathering, when an old hurt or resentment or sadness enters your train of thought, you just drop it, put up a giant STOP sign and just cease thinking about it? What would change? A lot, even if you do that for just a few seconds. You are breaking away from the old momentum that usually drives the situation. You have ceased to feel — for those few seconds — trapped in old behavior. This affects how you look and talk, which in turn affects how others relate to you. They will sense that something has been altered even if they don’t know how or why.
It has actually been proven scientifically that when we experience a negative emotion, from whatever cause, its physiological duration is 90 seconds. Then it’s gone. That means the body ceases to react to the stress of the emotion. It is all cleared away. The only reason we continue to feel the stress of that emotion is because we allow it to recycle in our thoughts over and over. We DWELL on it. So the body responds with repetitions of the physiological state, triggered only by our insistence on repeating the trauma we felt in our minds over and over again. Otherwise, the negative emotion would disappear!
How often have you run a negative conversation or event through your mind, something that made you angry, sad, nervous, self-critical, anxious or all of the above? Did it help to feel that way seven times over, or twenty times over? Probably not, but no question, stopping ourselves from recycling unpleasant events is tough. We are used to letting our thoughts run the show. What if we change those thoughts? That’s all it takes to change our behavior. If we want to…
When something someone says or does makes you upset or angry, do you show this in any way? Speak outright? Manipulate things in a passive/aggressive way? Sulk? Retreat? We have all experienced those reactions in ourselves at one time or another. To break the familiar habit of this behavior, shift the momentum. How? Don’t react at all. Suspend your investment in the old knee-jerk reactions, one by one. You will in time cease to need them, or better yet, you will cease to want them.
What if someone puts down the things you cherish most, like your creative work, perhaps, or a hobby you are passionate about, or music you love? It is difficult not to say what we think when this happens — the triggers there are fast and furious, and pretty much driven by ego. But here’s the thing. If we don’t respond to the trigger, we’ve left the attacker high and dry. They really have no place to go. It would be like having the actors leave the stage in the middle of the first act… We are free, because we don’t require their opinion to validate what we love. We never did.
Our memories of previous family gatherings surface the moment we meet again with each other. Most of the memories we have pull us out of the present — we aren’t living now, we’re living THEN. But THEN is gone. Look at the people around you. Who do you see — memories or real people? It matters that you see real people. Be the observer, as much as the participant.
In the end, right now is all we ever have. It is where we are meant to live, not in the past or in the future. Letting go of old behaviors allows us to feel the energy and authenticity of being alive NOW.