By Julie Matheson
Tensions were often high in our family at the holidays. Even when the day seemed fine going into it there could be a heavy feeling lingering in the air causing us to await something to fall apart. The situation-upset might be a new twist every year but the energy was old and familiar.
My dad’s dad died when he was 2 years old. He and his younger brother grew up poor, living without many creature comforts. In answer to that, my dad became a very hard worker and consequently a very good provider. However, his poverty in childhood caused him to bring a sour mood to our current day holidays. He knew how to provide but sadly not how to enjoy what he provided. Knowing the rootings of his mood swings at the holidays helped us have more compassion for dealing with his erratic behavior… to a point.
Personal growth and spiritual evolution have long been my greatest joy and intrigue. I’ve gone from one emotional-spiritual pursuit to the next, starting with mastering co-dependency issues, to playing with co-creation/manifestation energy (you know, envisioning what I want and then seeing if it manifests), to studying trauma and how traumatic imprints affect our ability to change, and then eventually to creating writing practices that allow the deeper clearing work to happen.
Change and growth are my thing, and so over the years I’ve come to use the holidays as a research opportunity to delve into my own beliefs, thoughts, behaviors and particularly my reactions.
Eventually, I observed that as long as I didn’t take anyone else’s behavior personally it was fascinating to observe the going’s-on. It was also fascinating to detangle later when I played it back in my mind, and wrote it all down, observing the patterns of behavior from all the players, and discerning what was mine to upgrade.
In the early days, I was reactive to it all but then I started making it a goal to not react to anything I saw when I visited at the holidays. As long as I didn’t react, I didn’t add any more logs to the fire. Each visit was kind of like doing research and fine-tuning my response to things to see how it changed the dynamic.
Eventually I came up with a set of rules for myself that I followed with good success. Although, I also had to redefine “success”. Success in the early days meant ‘no reaction’. Afterwards I would rate my myself “A”, “B”, “C” or “D” on how I did.
Sometimes I would need to address really poor behavior, but I learned to wait a day or two to think it through before I addressed it.
Here are the rules I came up with and subsequently what I learned….
Rule #1. Be present to your own thoughts and feelings at all times. Use your holiday events to discover your own triggers. What, when and how do you take the bait? Even when provoked, controlling our own behaviors is our responsibility. It’s maddening enough when others act poorly but even more maddening when we can’t seem to control our own thoughts and behaviors. Using the holidays to learn more about your own reactions will show you where to focus your next healing session.
Rule #2. Self-commit ahead of time (like now or days before) to not react to anything you observe. It’s okay to have discernment about other’s behavior because we do need to be alert and act appropriately.
However, be especially decerning about other people’s ability to give the affection you might seek. They might NOT be capable and that is especially important to know and to accept. And, to not take personally. This understanding, alone, helps us have appropriate expectations, and to not over-react.
Rule #3. Love yourself first. Fill your own tank and then, to the best of your ability, be the love-bringer. Love them anyway. Many atrocious things happen in families, mine included, and it all makes us who we are, and then we get to decide what to do with those many patterns of thoughts and behaviors we’ve inherited.
Truth is, any thoughts and behaviors can be upgraded, evolved or changed. It just takes a little self-observation and practice. No one else has to change for us to change. We can evolve anyway. We can love ourselves and them regardless. The holidays are often ripe with rich opportunities to observe family patterns of beliefs and resulting behaviors.
Your Holiday Affirmation: I choose to use the information I discover at the holidays to change patterns in myself to evolve my own life. I keep the focus on what is mine to change. I accept others as they are. I’m grateful for my ability to evolve.
Julie Matheson is a holistic mental health counselor and author. Her new book is now on Amazon in paperback, Kindle, Audible and in bookstores near you – Lotus Flower Living: A Journaling Practice for Deep Discovery and Lasting Peace: Untangle Your Mind and Heart Once and For All. You may listen to the Introduction at LotusFlowerLiving.com/book.