Yesterday, I did a reading for a woman who’s family was less the Cleavers and more The Addams Family. Actually, now that I think about it, it was more like the Corleones.
Anyway, she was being driven absolutely ’round the bend by all kinds of dysfunction, fighting, back-biting and all that other fun stuff. Now, I’m all for professional counseling (or in some cases, heavy drinking) to navigate those stormy waters. But from a metaphysical sense, there’s another reason you’re giving each other the stinkeye across the Thanksgiving table.
You picked them.
Yup, before you hit the Universal Waterslide down into human form, you chose the family you entered into, because of the lessons that were going to be offered up. If you’re pulling your hair out at that idea, I feel ya. But think about it: who knows how to get under your skin, lift you up, beat you down, love you wildly or ignore you to the point of tears, better than your family? They offer a complete smorgasbord of human experience – and you’re gonna sample everything, even the stuff that tastes icky. And probably more than once.
I’m not saying this idea makes your family situation any easier — but understanding that there’s a reason behind all that friction offers a new perspective. Those are all opportunities to work through challenges and achieve some measure of growth.
Let me pull one out of my own family archive: one of my sisters is 12 years older. Ever since I was born, she has been “the boss.” Once I was out of diapers, that never sat so well with me. Our arguments were not fun, and it really became a problem after our mother died. We fought over every stupid thing, and it just seemed like neither of us could “hear” what the other said. I finally decided to sit down and write her an old-school letter, rather than our usual weekly phone call. It let me express myself without interruption, and hopefully, move the conversation(s) forward rather than into the weeds as it so often happened. That new approach changed our game a little bit, and we were able to sort through some of our issues.
The bottom line is, our thorny relationship forced us to find a new way to communicate. We either had to do that, or write each other off. The write-off may have been the more appealing option, but the Universe doesn’t play that way. You’re here to become a stronger, better human being — even just a little bit –or repeat your lessons all over again.
One of my friends notes that she’s stopped playing into her ex-husband’s negative attitude. It doesn’t necessarily change that lousy view of the world, but by not doing her usual thing, she stops a lot of arguments before they start — and she feels a lot more peaceful (it doesn’t hurt that she secretly enjoys that flummoxed look on his face when he can’t quite figure out what just happened).
I’m not saying you’ll ever completely make peace with family members; the point is, you try. You try to get past the things that always set you off; you try to see the ones who do the setting off in a new way. You try to hold off from the same old knee-jerk reactions and find a way to change the game, even in a small way. Just by trying, you’re inching up the spiritual ladder.
So the next time you’re butting heads with someone in your family, remember that its an opportunity to learn something valuable. Take a breath, step back and see if you can figure out what it is. (And if you really want to rub it in, remember that THEIR bad behavior is helping YOU advance spiritually. I believe the correct phrase is, “Neener, neener, neener!”)