Thomas Wolfe wrote, “You can’t go home again.” He meant that home doesn’t change – we do. Many of us are all too well aware that home/our family of origin hasn’t changed. This is why we struggle during the holiday season. We feel obligated to spend time with those who hurt us the most while clinging to the false hope that maybe this year will be different.
So…as you prepare to go home, how about doing things differently this year?
When you left home you stopped being part of your family’s daily life. Unless you’re one of the fortunates who come from a very healthy family, this is where your family stopped changing in terms of how you all relate to each other. If you want this to change today; you must communicate what you want to be different and be willing to consistently reinforce it.
How old do you feel when you visit family? Right. You’re a kid. They relate to you as one and worse, you feel and respond like one. My legal name is James. I’ve always preferred to be called “Jim.” I’m a 45 year old man and to this day my parents refer to me as “Jimmy.” They haven’t changed. I have. When people stop growing as individuals they tend to become resistant to change. My choice was to continue to be passive in how I relate to my family and be unsatisfied or be assertive in setting boundaries regarding how I was willing to relate to them (I accomplished every change I sought except for my childhood nickname).
Relationships are not stagnant. They are dynamic and ever changing. If we do not adjust, greater distance between us becomes inevitable. In order to close that distance, we need to be able to discuss what’s different. I have consistently found that people are resistant to hearing how I think they need to change but are generally receptive to hearing how I have changed and what it is I need. This is why therapists recommend, “I statements.” We tend to get less defensiveness and more receptiveness.
While we were growing up, our family of origin unknowingly assigned roles and expectations to us. These don’t change unless we take action to change them. Whatever “one” you were growing up, you still are in their eyes. Maybe you were the smart one, the pretty one, the funny one, the responsible one, or the screw up of the family. Chances are that however they saw you and related to you then is how they do so now. What would you like to be appreciated for? What have you wanted your family to recognize and be proud of? As unfair as it may seem to you…ask for it.
Maybe you were the black sheep of the family. This left many of us feeling a part from when we so desperately wanted/want to feel a part of. Maybe you’re willing to pretend and conform and be who they want you to be so that you can get your needs met or at least get through the holidays. Maybe you spend Christmas hiding your political or religious beliefs. Maybe you pretend that you’re happy or that your life is just what you want it to be. Maybe it’s worth it for you. I hope you get to a place where it’s not. Pretending sucks and so does conditional love.
The best people I know are black sheep. Take a fresh look through your extended family. Perhaps someone else is or has become one. Embrace them. My chosen family today are primarily people who are the sole sane member of their biological family. Today I feel no obligation to a person simply because we’re related by blood. I have learned to love and accept my biological family as they are with no expectations of them changing for my benefit.
I get my needs met by my chosen family. We are intimately connected. These are the people I most readily cry, share fears, dreams and belly laugh with. These are the people I can call at 2am and know they’ll answer the phone. I did not allow such people in my life while I was waiting for the family I was born to change.
Whatever you experience with family, don’t let it keep you from claiming new brothers and sisters. Don’t let it keep you from having mother figures and father figures. Don’t hold out for others to change. Receive the people the Universe places in your path. We are all connected. Happy Holidays.
In part five, Karen and Jim will discuss relating to your coworkers and why we cannot kill them.