This is the time of the year where we look forward to meeting our family members whom we have not seen for extended periods of time. We anticipate moments of joy connection and shared happiness with our loved ones. Unfortunately, this is not always the case. Most family gatherings prove to be challenging, unpleasant, resulting in heated arguments, resentments and premature departures.
In this piece, I highlight awkward situations that may arise and offer 3 powerful tips on how to take charge and master how you react in such moments.
Let’s reflect on some of these awkward situations being with unconscious and toxic people who can trigger negative emotions:
Examples of Familiar Challenges
- THE BOASTER: A family member who takes the centre stage and talks endlessly about their achievements; the price of their new possessions (car, house, clothing items or a trip to an exotic island, etc.);
- THE VICTIM: A family member who constantly complains and blames everything and everyone (i.e. the government, crime, jobs, relationships) for making their lives miserable;
- THE TROUBLEMAKER: A confrontational and aggressive family member who finds any excuse to instigate a fight;
- THE HATER: A resentful family member who is resentful and never fails to bring up issues may have happened to them 20 years back;
- THE LATECOMER: The family member who always rocks up late for the gathering (without fail!);
- THE JUDGE: The family member who does not approve of your new partner because of their different lifestyle and viewpoint on certain topics (i.e. politics, religion, diet, health, etc.;
- THE CONTROLLER: Your lifestyle and life choices are put under a magnifying glass. They have something to say about how you should be living your life;
- THE EXPOSER: The wicked family member who unnecessarily brings up your humiliating past behaviour in front of everyone;
- THE RIVALS: Family members, couples or siblings who are always at each others throats;
- THE TRADITIONALIST: The elder family member who is challenged by generational gaps, in how the younger generations redefine and live family values evident in how they dress, their mannerisms and communication style.
We often become miserable when our family members behave in ways that conflict with our own reality, choices and behaviour. You may be unable to cope with these triggers, and become like a string-puppet controlled by people.
3 Powerful Tips to master your reaction
1. Set your intentions before making your way to the gathering
Intentions create our experiences because they manifest outcomes.
I personally do not leave the house without clearly defining my intentions when I go to attend meetings, to coach clients and to facilitate workshops.
By setting intentions, you anchor yourself in a solid and firm foundation which allows you to:
- Stay focused and objective when challenged
- Stay in your personal authority and in control
- Stay open and embrace opposing views, and accept others for who they are.
Setting intentions involves asking yourself the following questions:
- How do I want my presence to be experienced?
- What boundaries will I put in place?
- What qualities will I offer to have a memorable moment with my family?
Reflecting on this, can be a gift of your presence to your family. You may think of offering them love, support, forgiveness, generosity, compassion, understanding, etc. Be intentional because change always starts with you.
Setting intentions will help you to stick to your commitments and your noble purpose even when your buttons are pushed.
2. Letting go of the past
If you know that you are likely to be triggered by some of the characters mentioned above, (e.g. Aunt Susan passes a remark about your weight), you might take this personally and the remark is likely to make you feel anxious, angry and humiliated – all of which are negative emotions. You’re likely to react either by bottling up your emotions, pretending that nothing has happened or aggressively defending yourself. This could be your predictable an automatic response each time you are triggered, and this might be based on your past or early life experiences. By behaving in that manner, you become a victim where you lose your sense of control by believing that people are responsible for your upset, and you hold on to negative thoughts.
It is time to wake up and realise that this behaviour is separating and you it is time to let go.
Unlearning these behaviours requires changing your beliefs and thoughts about the experiences that trigger your emotions and you need to start developing awareness of what drives your negative reactions.
Letting go can liberate you and it requires work before you encounter some family members. reflect on the following questions:
- What situations trigger my emotions?
- How do I react when I am triggered?
- What are my beliefs and thoughts about the situation?
Here’s is a helpful process that you can practice before hand:
Recall a situation that usually pushes your button and how you feel (e.g. anger, frustration, humiliation, anxiety, etc.). You will experience sensations in your body. When I feel negative emotions, I get a knot in my stomach, a lump in my throat, a tight chest, and accelerated breathing. Thoughts could start racing and erroneously make judgements and demands about yourself and others, (e.g. I don’t belong, I am a doormat, I should walk out, people are cruel, they take advantage of me, they are inconsiderate…)
In this instance, your reaction will based on interpretations and beliefs that your mind has made up. (e.g. fight back, disengage, and stay disconnected).
When you realise that you are triggered, you need to stop and reframe your thinking. With practice, you will realise that it is not the situation that is generating negative emotions, it is your monkey mind that runs your life. You will be able to set boundaries and embrace the present moment and you will choose how you respond. The challenging situation might be a gift to evoke you to connect, to love, and to introspect. You can grow from challenges. So, do your work.
3. Power of Appreciation
This is my favourite principle, because it is grounded in my belief that every human being carries light and goodness within them. Appreciation allows this light to shine. Having set your intentions (Step 1) and letting go of limiting and past beliefs (Step 2), appreciation comes effortlessly and naturally. It allows you to be authentic, and you become a magnet that attracts positivity and dissolve negativity. Your love and radiance will emerge and brighten up the room with your presence, and this will give others permission to shine their own light.
The following two simple steps will further help to connect and appreciate others:
- Look directly into their eyes
- Tell them what you see in them, it can be quality or something they did that had an impact on you.
An example can be as follows:
“In our telephone conversation on Wednesday, I shared how difficult unhappy I was with (so and so) and was touched by the generosity and patience you displayed. You listened and paid attention to what I was saying without interrupting. This made me feel acknowledged and respected. I really appreciated your time and patience.
This one of the greatest gift you can offer to yourself and your loved ones. You will miraculously transform your relationships, and remember, people will not change unless if they choose to. You will have played your part by being in your authority and awakening others.
One last thing advice, remember to appreciate yourself for living your true and noble purpose. Celebrate in a way that is self honouring. Practicing this will set you free and you can live with constraints and embrace the diversity that exists within your family. After all, it is our differences that make us grow and be the best version of ourselves.