This was first published on KSL.com
Something happened at a family party recently, and I have been so upset I can’t seem to get past it. One of my siblings said something that really offended and hurt me. I was humiliated and embarrassed. It has thrown me for such a loop I can’t find my peace again. When people say or do things that upset us, how do we manage that and process it in a healthy way? Why can’t I let it go?
This is going to be an answer that you may need to re-read and sit with it a bit. If you feel yourself resisting the ideas, consider that it might be your ego that doesn’t like what I am recommending. Ego feels more powerful if you choose to be defensive, attack back or stay angry, but your ego is not the real you. You will feel better faster if you choose a love and trust-based approach.
When someone hurts you, it is your ego (the self-image you created) that steps up to protect you by getting angry. It thinks staying upset is the only way to protect you from further mistreatment. Ego also believes you can be diminished or hurt by other people and that their words have power, but all of this is just belief, perception or story; it isn’t fact.
Consider the idea that you're scared, vulnerable, ego can be hurt, but the real you — the amazing, divine, perfect soul you really are — cannot be diminished. Consider the possibility that you are invulnerable and that nothing another person says, thinks, or does has any power to hurt you. Notice that these ideas are just belief, perception and story, too. I cannot prove these ideas are truth, but you cannot prove they aren’t.
Truth in perception
The truth in everything is perception, and your perception (the beliefs you see your life through) determine how you feel about every experience you have. So, if you are upset by something, it is only because of the way you are looking at it. There is always another way to look at it that would make you feel completely different about it.
Sit with this idea: Nothing can make you upset but yourself. It is not what happens that upsets you; it’s the thoughts you are choosing to have about what happened that make you upset. You could always choose some different beliefs that would change the story and make you feel much better.
Another idea to sit with is: You are never upset for the reason you think. You are not upset because this person said what they said. You are upset because of the meaning you are applying to their actions or words. Because they insulted you, does that mean you aren’t good enough? If others don’t think you’re not good enough, does that mean it’s true?
The only reason these ideas or meanings hurt you is because there is a part of you that already believed them before this person even came along. These ideas caused you pain because they triggered a pain you already had. Their words hurt your already “self-inflicted sore spot.” If you didn’t already believe you might not be good enough, it wouldn’t hurt you when people implied it.
Questions to ask
When you get offended, stop and ask yourself these questions, which might change the lens you are viewing the situation through:
If these questions bother you, your ego may want to keep casting the other person as the bad guy and making itself the victim. But I’m hoping you would like to feel better. The path to feeling better is through love, forgiveness, accuracy, and respect for yourself and other people.
If you choose to believe you are bulletproof because nothing can diminish your value and you're always safe, because every experience is here to serve you, teach you and bless you, you may find that there is never any reason to be upset. When people say or do hurtful things, see it as a chance to practice standing in your truth and focusing more on learning than protecting yourself.
Again, I know this one might take a little time to sit with, but keep thinking about it. With practice, you can do this.
This was first published on KSL.COM
A woman recently asked me how she would know if she was out of balance and too critical of other people, or just a very observant and helpful person? I think you just have to ask the people around you and they would be happy to oblige on this one, but here are some signs that you might be overly critical and need to work on that.
Are you overly critical?
Here are some questions to ask yourself:
Do people sometimes lie to you or avoid answering your questions?
If you are someone who is overly critical, the people in your life may not feel safe enough to tell you the truth. They might avoid talking to you at times, or lie to protect themselves from your judgment about what they are doing.
Do people get their feelings hurt when you are just trying to help them?
Overly critical people have a tendency to give unsolicited advice, which can feel more insulting than helpful. You might mean well when you point out what they did wrong or how they could improve, but to a person who battles with the fear of failure, it hurts. If your comments often make people angry or hurt their feelings, you may be overly critical.
Are you extremely opinionated and have a hard time not sharing your ideas?
People who are overly critical are often overly opinionated too. Can you let someone be wrong and not correct them? If not, this is a problem. Practice just listening and asking questions, without sharing your opinion at all. Bite your tongue and allow the conversation to go on without your ideas or input. This can be hard, but it shows maturity and wisdom.
Are you extremely observant?
Do you notice details that others miss? Many overly critical people are also told they are too observant. You might just naturally see what’s wrong before you see what’s right. This is a great skill in certain jobs or fields, but it can be rough in relationships.
Are you picky with high standards?
If you reload the dishwasher because it wasn’t done right, or remake beds because they still have wrinkles, or fix pillows every time you walk past the couch, you might be too particular and your standards might damage connection with others. Again, there are certain careers where being this picky would be a plus, but it can make people feel attacked.
Do you get really bent out of shape when things don’t go your way?
This might happen because you create a lot of expectations and then get attached to them. The truth is, life will rarely meet your expectations. Events rarely go off as planned, and people usually disappoint you. If you are fear-of-loss dominant — meaning you get triggered whenever life isn’t what you wanted it to be — you might be bothered and frustrated a lot, which can lead to criticism.
Do you find other people are quiet and have less to say around you?
People might have learned that communication with you isn’t safe. They may avoid your calls or have fewer comments in conversations. If you want people to speak their truth and be open with you, you have to create a safe place for them to do that.
How to make a change
If you answered yes to many of these questions, your subconscious tendency toward criticism might be a problem. Here are some tips for changing this behavior.
1. Allow people to disagree with you without threat of judgment or argument.
Let others know it’s OK if they don’t agree or don’t want to do it your way. Give them a safe space to tell you their truth without risk of conflict or correction.
2. Ask permission before giving advice.
Ask others, “Would you be open to a suggestion or some advice on how to do that, or would you rather I let you do it on your own?” Give them a safe place to say they aren’t open to advice on this. Whenever you share suggestions without asking permission to do so, it can come off as insulting to other people.
3. Practice not sharing your ideas.
Challenge yourself to sit through a whole conversation and only ask questions and listen with the intent to understand, without saying anything or sharing your ideas at all. Do this on a regular basis with the people you care about most. Even when you need to speak your mind, make sure you have thoroughly listened to their ideas first, and then ask permission before you speak.
4. Be observant without the need to speak about what you see.
Bite your tongue until it bleeds if need be, but let some people or things be wrong. Remember, they are on their own perfect journey, and God and the universe will help them learn what they need to know. You don’t have to do that job yourself.
5. Be less picky and more flexible.
Let the dishwasher be loaded wrong once in a while so you aren’t always making people feel inferior. Your high standards are fine for the work you do but shouldn’t be projected onto others. Having good relationships with people who feel safe with you is much more important.
6. Don’t get bent out of shape when things don’t go your way.
Trust the universe that it knows what it’s doing and however this event or situation goes, it is how it was supposed to go. There are reasons in play you don’t and won’t know anything about. Trust life to deliver what we all need, not what we want, so we can grow.
7. Become a better listener.
Notice how people light up when you are more interested in listening to them than you are in talking. They feel valued, cared about and important. The gift of validation and understanding can be the most loving gift you give to people in your life.
Personal growth happens when we start to consciously see our subconscious tendencies and make powerful choices to override our programming. The first step is awareness, then using choice to force ourselves towards better behavior. If we practice this new behavior enough, it starts to establish new subconscious pathways and our new behavior sticks. Be patient with yourself though, because this process takes time — and progress is more important than perfection.
You can do this.
This article was first published on KSL.COM
After reading all the comments from the previous articles in this stepfamily series, I think I need to give you the one biggest secrets to making a stepfamily — or any family — happier and more successful. More than any other quality, you need to be MATURE, and I will explain what I mean.
Mature people are able to recognize when they might be wrong, unbalanced, fear-triggered, or selfish, and they can actually own that, apologize and admit when they need help. Mature people are also more emotionally intelligent grown-ups who are aware of their triggers, faults and weaknesses and don’t get offended over small things.
I realize this is a tall order, though, and we are all (including me) still working on being truly mature. I realize it’s a hard-fought battle against our egos, fears, insecurities and scarcity. I know it’s going to be a lifelong project to grow ourselves up and become mature. But if we can at least see the goal and understand what mature looks like, then we are on the right track and that will make all the difference.
It’s not so much about being perfectly mature (because we know that won’t happen) as much as striving in that direction and working on it.
Here are some tips and tricks to help you fight the battle to be more mature:
Choose your battles (and don’t wage war over small things)
Every time something bugs you, ask yourself: Will I think this was a big deal and worthy of causing contention five years from now? If the answer is no, tell yourself this is not a hill worth dying on and go do something to take care of yourself instead. When we act maturely, we are flexible, easy-going and demonstrate we have thick skin. Many family conflicts start over small issues and continue showing up because members of the family are processing hurt, stress and fear. This means most of the time it’s not about you, and it will pass if you let it go.
Work to understand other people’s fear states
Functioning in a fear-of-loss state, which stepfamilies usually are, means everyone will be offended more easily. In a stepfamily, fear of loss is prevalent and everyone subconsciously thinks they have to protect themselves from every other member of the family. Their defensiveness is not about you, though. If they get upset at you, remember they are afraid of more loss and it isn’t personal. Reassure them that you care about them and don’t want to take from them or hurt them. Stay in a calm, balanced place knowing these bumps are part of the process to re-establish trust, and this process takes time and patience.
Understand everyone is needy for validation and reassurance in a blended family
Kids often act out as a result of the fear and pain they are processing. When this happens, instead of being angry at them, validate the good kid you know they are inside. Show compassion for the complex emotions they are probably feeling and the way pain makes everyone behave worse. When you show understanding, they will lean in instead of away from you, which will give you more influence.
Plan on taking the punishment from people who were hurt before you were even involved
This happens with anyone who has had any past life. They usually have trust issues and fears that you will inadvertently trigger, even though they aren’t about you. Did I mention mature people have to have thick skin? They do, and this will be critical when blending. I am not saying you should allow others to mistreat you though. Just handle the conversation about the mistreatment with understanding and patience. Show your love is bigger than your fear of being mistreated.
Never make children feel responsible for making sure you are OK
Children are especially fragile every time they have to move from one house to the other. Each time they come and go, they experience the pain of the divorce all over again. They feel guilty for leaving whoever they are leaving, and you must make sure they know you are fine.
Never make them feel guilty for wanting to spend time with their other parent. That is one of the most damaging things you can do to them. Don’t look forlorn and sad when they leave, because that makes this even harder on them. Be the grown-up who is responsible for his or her own happiness and show kids his or her strength and resilience. This will build relationships of respect and trust with them.
Get professional help if you are struggling
Getting professional help as an adult teaches children that it’s OK to ask for help and OK to not be perfect. It is a sign of strength (not weakness) to acknowledge you need outside help. Strong, mature people know that a little help can make everything easier.
Your No. 1 job is managing your emotions, issues and fears. If you can tell you don’t know how to manage those and you are letting ego, pride, fear or anger show up in your relationships, own that. Get help immediately.
Always be improving your emotional intelligence
Emotionally intelligent people know they can always do better. Read books, go to seminars, get therapy or coaching, listen to podcasts or Audible. There are so many ways to access great personal development help these days. Be someone who is always improving yourself, and your relationships will be rich and stable.
Be the first one to admit your mistakes and apologize
The more you do this, the healthier your family dynamic will be. Things unravel when your ego tries to act perfect and cast others as the bad ones. The truth is, we all have the same value and our mistakes don’t change that. We are all struggling students in the classroom of life, doing the best we can with what we know, but we need to learn more. Owning the fact that you are still learning, but want to do better, and actually getting help to change yourself, shows your family you really love them.
You can do this.
This was first published on KSL.COM
I had the honor of being the emcee for the Smart Stepfamily Conference two weeks ago in Lehi. Throughout the conference I kept thinking: There are some things that every single parent who is even thinking of dating and getting married again should know — things they could learn now that would save them pain, stress and turmoil later.
This article is for you dating, single parents.
Having said that, I highly recommend that this article not be the only resource you go to when thinking about a second marriage. The family dynamics in a blended family are very complex with land mines popping up daily, and knowing how to handle these up front can help you have a successful second marriage.
Here are my "must-know tips" for single parents in a relationship:
1. A stepfamily does not work like a biological family
Just because you were successful in your biological family does not mean you have the skills to blend two households. The dynamics in a stepfamily are much more complex, with a lot of fear and emotion involved. If you go into it unprepared, the challenges might be too much for you. You will absolutely need to get help, counseling or coaching, seminars, and books on blending families if you want to be successful. Getting help decreases the likelihood of divorce more than anything else you could do.
2. You must work on you first
It is going to take a lot of maturity, emotional intelligence and patience to build a relationship with each member of the new family. So, if you have wounds from previous relationships, childhood issues, or fear triggers, you need to work on them before you bring kids into the mix. The kids will inevitably push your buttons. If you behave immaturely when this happens, they will lose respect for you and the whole thing will get much harder. Making sure you are in control of your reactions is your No. 1 job in this new relationship.
3. Parenting problems come after marriage
Even if your partner’s kids like you right now while you are dating, they will have issues with you and/or not like you (at times) once you are married. I promise this will happen. If you are prepared for it, you won’t overreact or get offended and can just ride it out. Caring relationships will develop, but much slower than you think they should. So, it is going to take patience.
4. Fear often breeds bad behavior
Everyone behaves badly in fear of the unknown, and there is no bigger unknown for a child than changing up a person’s home and family. Their very foundation is shaken when the family changes. You must go into this situation carefully, always honoring how distressing the changes may be in the child’s life.
5. Ask your child how or she feels
Talk to children constantly and ask how they feel about each step of the relationship as it develops. They can’t control whether you move forward, marry someone or not, but they should be heard, validated and honored for their feelings about it. They need to know they are important too.
6. Be OK with being left out
Children need activities and time alone with their biological parent — without you. You will need to be OK with being left out on occasion because honoring the child’s needs is the most important thing when first blending. They are scared to death of losing their other parent (they already lost one in the divorce, who no longer lives with them). Make sure they are getting lots of attention from their parent to quiet this fear of loss, and they will be more open and accepting of you.
7. Children won’t always appreciate your efforts
Your role as a stepparent will sometimes feel like that of a babysitter or a substitute teacher (and you know how well they are treated). You will sacrifice and do things for your partner’s children, and sometimes they won’t be grateful. As a matter of fact, they might resent you for it because you are doing what their natural parent is supposed to be doing, and that hurts. If you can stay peaceful, flexible and trusting through the bad days when they push you away, you will get closer and closer over time. Just don’t rush blending; it takes a long time to build these step relationships.
8. Stepfamilies are built on loss and pain
A stepfamily is built on the loss and pain each person has experienced before now. The loss and pain can keep family members in a fear of loss or failure state — where their worst behavior will show up. They need you to understand that any bad behavior is an expression of that pain. They need your compassion while you also enforce rules. If compassion isn’t a precursor to discipline, damage will be done that is hard to repair.
9. Never speak negatively about your ex
You must never speak a negative word about your ex or your partner's ex. You must understand that children are made of half you and half your ex. When you badmouth your ex, you are insulting that part of your child too. You must allow them the space to love their other parent or you will do irreparable damage to your kids and their self-esteem. Work on seeing everyone as having the same value and avoid gossip and negativity.
Ron Deal, a leading expert on stepfamilies, shares the following African proverb: “When two elephants fight, the grass pays for it.” The children are the grass. Great care must be taken to make the children feel safe and unconditionally loved by both parents.
10. Blending forces change in family roles
When two families blend, all the traditional family roles are thrown out of whack. There is a new birth order as new children are added and others displaced. There is a new adult taking the place of the parent (or the oldest child, who might have filled that space since the divorce). Pay attention to how the family dynamic is changing and where reassurance and patience might be needed as everyone adjusts.
11. The 'You’re not my parent' card will be played
When things get stressful and feelings of loss and fear are triggered, your stepchildren will pull the "You’re not my parent" card. Don’t even attempt to replace their parent. Take the role of a caring family friend. Let the child determine the pace of the relationship and follow their lead. If you refrain from pushing and let them come to you, bonding will happen.
I hope this article doesn’t discourage you because you can build a successful, happy stepfamily that works, if you understand the factors in play and are prepared for them. Here are some great books to consider if you are preparing for a blended family:
This was first published on KSL.COM
I am a stepfather and I can relate with a lot of things in your article for stepmothers, but I wish you had addressed the challenges for both partners. I am finding being a stepfather very complicated. What advice do you have for stepfathers?
You are correct. The role of stepfather is just as complex that of stepmother. Jeannette Lofas, a stepparenting expert and author, says stepfathers face the following challenges:
These are just a few of the common complaints and challenges. But with some education, time and patience, you can create healthy relationships with everyone in your blended family.
Here are some tips and ideas to make your role as stepfather easier:
You will have to be a patient, understanding, mature adult who understands the complex feelings a child of divorce has to process. If you have trouble with being triggered and angry, frustrated, or passive-aggressive, it is your responsibility to get some professional help and work on these triggers. Do this at the first sign of trouble or frustration.
Many stepfathers let the resentment build for years before seeking help or advice, and often the damage is too deep by then. Remember, it's a sign of strength to admit you need help, not a sign of weakness. Strong men can admit they need some outside help and some new skills and tools.
You can do this.
This was first published on KSL.com
The most complex role in every blended family is the role of stepmother. The very word "stepmother" is preloaded with negative connotations. I’d like to have a talk with the person at Disney, who has cast all stepmothers as evil, cruel and unloving. I believe they have made it hard for even the best-intentioned person to rise above that stereotype.
This role is not an easy one either; Jeannette Lofas, a stepparenting expert and author of the book “Step Parenting” explains why it is more complex than being a biological mother. Stepmothers have to battle many of the following challenges:
These are just a few of the common complaints and challenges, but there are many more. Feelings of failure, rejection and never being good enough, feeling mistreated, taken for granted, walked on or resented are common. But with some education, time and patience, you can create beautiful relationships with everyone in your family.
Here are some tips and ideas to make your role as step-mother easier:
Be a strong, resilient, mature adult who understands the complex feelings a child will have toward a stepparent. Rise above it all and trust in your value and this journey. It takes years for a stepfamily to fully jell, but the less reactive you can be the better.
If you have trouble with being triggered and creating drama when you feel rejected, insecure, or mistreated, it is your responsibility to get some professional help and work on your triggers. Do this at the first sign of trouble, and you can do this.
This was first published on KSL.com
I have received numerous questions lately that involve stepfamilies or blended families, and I understand why. All family relationships can be hard, but these families face many more challenges than a biological family. Additionally, people who haven’t been in a blended family before are often unprepared to handle them.
Many couples marry thinking their love will be enough to make the family work, but they soon find out that’s not true. To create a successful blended family you will need to learn about the challenges and gain some new skills.
I share the following statistics from Pew Research and the Stepfamily Foundation not to discourage you, but to motivate you to get some help, education, skills and tools so your blended family can beat these odds.
Fortunately, that last statistic is changing, as there are more resources today than ever before. I highly recommend that couples who are in a blended family or are thinking about getting married, find a coach or counselor who is familiar with the challenges. You should also find every book, conference or seminar you can on the topic and read them together. These steps can considerably up your chances of making it. Knowledge and awareness of the challenges make all the difference.
Tips for blended families
Jeannette Lofas, an author and stepfamily expert, says the No. 1 factor in the success or failure of a blended family comes down to getting outside education, help and resources to deal with the inevitable challenges. Here are some important facts about blended families, from her book “Step Parenting,” which I highly recommend.
1. A blended family is very different from a biological family.
The issues that arise in a blended family will be some you haven’t ever had to deal with before. In a birth family, there are natural roles everyone falls into; but in a blended family, these roles can look very different.
No stepmother can fully replace the child’s actual mother (even if she is deceased). The stepmother role is a unique one that most people have never had before. The rules are completely different, and the same goes for the father, mother, stepfather, and even the oldest child, who now might not be the oldest anymore.
It takes time for everyone to understand and master their new roles. This cannot happen overnight and the road will be bumpy. All parties must be patient, easy-going, and slow to get offended or defensive. Everyone has to give everyone else some slack to learn and get comfortable with their new roles.
2. Love is not required, but respect is.
You cannot force your child to love a stepparent, but you will need a firm rule about respect, consideration and kindness. These are required from all parties all the time, even from the adults toward the children.
Everyone has the right to be honored, respected, heard and thanked for what they do. If a child or adult is struggling with giving respect, that is a sign that a conversation needs to happen where they can express their frustrations, pain or fears around the situation. As the adult, you must be able to listen to the child’s feelings and honor their right to have them, even if they are attacks at some level.
Everyone has the right to their feelings, but being disrespectful is not an option. If the adults are behaving emotionally or defensively, they need to seek some professional help with processing their own fears and feelings so they will be able to show up mature and stable and earn the family’s respect.
3. Your individual emotional intelligence is vitality important.
If you struggle with strong emotions, losing your temper, feeling mistreated or offended, you may want to seek some professional help to work on your triggers. Do not wait to see if things improve. Get professional help at the first sign of trouble. Every expert I talk to says this is the No. 1 thing they recommend. It is so much easier to fix relationships and families at the onset than to wait until things get really bad.
4. Blame the stepfamily situation, not the people involved.
Lofas says "One of the greatest mistakes is blaming yourself for the feelings and difficulties of the stepfamily situation. Such blame only makes you feel helpless, and it often keeps you from taking steps to deal with the problems."
It is not easy for anyone to be a stepparent. It is not easy for any child to have a stepparent. The entire experience is complicated and, at some level, can be scary or threatening. Everyone needs someone to talk to and resources to help them sort through the emotions involved.
5. Remember that transfer moments can be painful.
Every time children go from one home to the other (these transfer moments), all the pain around the divorce is brought to the surface again. Expect children to struggle and have emotions that can lead to behavior issues at these times. Overlook most of this and give them some room to feel bothered and even act out to some degree, because this type of behavior is natural as they process loss.
6. Everyone will have feelings of guilt.
Parents feel guilty for breaking up the family and loving someone their kids don’t like. Stepparents feel guilty that they can’t feel loving feelings toward these children that don’t belong to them. Children feel guilty for liking the stepparent or for disappointing the parent they aren’t with.
All this guilt leads to feelings of failure, which creates all kinds of bad behavior. A trained professional can help you process the guilt and, again, blame it on the situation, not on yourself.
7. Stepcouples should set rules together — alone.
Stepcouples must spend a great deal of time having validating conversations about rules, consequences, boundaries and who will do the disciplining and how. Do not have these conversations in front of the children. These things need to be worked out in private and then facilitated the right way (usually, this means having the biological parent do the discipline when possible).
Everyone must have a voice and feel heard and validated about their feelings. Even if you disagree, it will go over better if the other party at least feels heard. If you don’t have the skills to have these conversations in a validating and productive way, seek some professional help to learn how.
These are just a few tips and tricks to shine the light on some of the challenges stepfamilies face. In upcoming LifeAdvice articles, I am going to share advice and tips for fathers, mothers and stepparents in their unique roles. There is also a conference on blended families coming to Utah on Jan. 21 that I highly recommend you attend if you have, or are considering having, a blended family.
You can do this.
This was first published on KSL.com
For the last eight years, I have given you a new year’s resolution that, in my opinion, would make the greatest positive impact on your life in the upcoming year. (You can read the past 8 years articles here.)
This year being 2020, and the beginning of a new decade, I think it’s a great time for starting fresh and making a change. The goal I recommend you consider this year is to get some professional help to take stock of your subconscious beliefs and learn how to change the beliefs that aren’t serving you.
This will require professional help because it is difficult to see your subconscious patterns and change them on your own. I highly recommend you find a counselor or coach who is trained to do this kind of work. The truth is, you cannot work on yourself alone at the same level you can with someone to help you. It is much easier to see the negative patterns in other people’s behavior than it is to see your own.
A caring, well-trained coach or counselor can give you new tools and skills that will make you more emotionally intelligent and balanced. He or she can help you understand how your programs of fear are driving your behavior and help you change them on a subconscious level.
Trust me: A coach or counselor who can guide you through this process will help you become stronger, wiser and more loving than you ever thought you could be. That is the greatest gift you can give yourself and those you love this year.
To get you started, here is a list of the most common and damaging beliefs that might be causing havoc in your life:
Remember, these are not facts; they are just beliefs. That means you can change them anytime you want to. Sit with each of them a minute and make a note of the beliefs you might have in play.
These beliefs become the lens through which we see ourselves and our world. They filter all our experiences and determine how we feel about ourselves and life. They also drive our behavior — especially negative, unbalanced behavior. These beliefs stop us from being the person we want to be.
Changing your beliefs
Most of these beliefs play out on a subconscious level, though, so you may not be aware of how much they drive your life. But you can become aware, and that is the first step to changing them.
Here is an exercise to help you change some beliefs:
Fears that you aren’t good enough or aren’t safe are the most common beliefs behind bad behavior. Agin, find a professional who can specifically help you change those two beliefs. If you can start feeling safer in the world and better about yourself, it will be a gamechanger that will shift all your relationships for the better.
When you feel safe, you have a full bucket and something to give the people in your life. When you feel unsafe, your entire focus will be on you and finding safety, and you won’t have anything to give.
If your relationships are struggling, your self-esteem is low, you are going through some big life changes, or you are feeling depressed or anxious, care about yourself enough to get some help. Don't spend another day stuck here. There are answers to your questions and changes you can make that will quickly change how you feel and behave. Don't wait and live in fear any longer.
You can do this.
Family gatherings can be very painful experiences when you are going through hard things in your life. These well-meaning people who haven’t seen you in a while are probably going to ask questions about your relationship status, how your career is going, and where you are in your life. If you don’t have good answers to these questions, this can trigger feelings of failure and loss.
Here are a few do’s and don’ts for surviving family parties in a healthy way:
Keep fears in mind
If you have relatives who are hard to get along with, remember their bad behavior is often driven by their fears about themselves. If you choose to see them as scared (versus just being a jerk), you will have more compassion and will be less likely to take their comments personally.
Be sensitive about what your relatives might have experienced this last year and be careful what you say or ask. People who are struggling with something can be delicate and easy to offend. This year has been a rough year for many, so keep that in mind.
Create an emergency signal
Create an emergency hand signal and arrange with your spouse to rescue you from annoying relatives.
Be a strategic host
If you are hosting a holiday dinner, use place cards and arrange seating to keep touchy family members away from one another.
Be kind and let things go
Be patient and let unkind comments roll off. Remember, all bad behavior is a request for love. The worse the behavior, the more that person needs love and validation. Treat them with kindness, even when they don’t deserve it.
Don’t take anything personally. If someone says something mean, let it go. It’s not really about you; it’s about their fear and low self-esteem. They may feel like they have to put down others to feel good enough. Choose not to be offended and let them keep their negative energy to themselves.
Be a good listener
Ask lots of safe questions and let other people talk. Allowing another person to do the talking makes them feel valued at the deepest level. Be someone who cares enough to listen.
Avoid telling a story to top someone else’s. Let them have the spotlight and practice not needing it yourself.
Pay lots of compliments. Compliment everyone at the party. If you focus on giving validation to others, you won’t worry about yourself as much.
Be the love in the room. Be there to make others feel loved and valued. Don’t worry about whether they love you, just be there to give.
Consider not attending
If you can’t be around certain people without feeling discouraged, depressed or upset, it’s OK to decide not to attend the party at all. Start a new tradition and do something different instead. Get friends together and spend the holidays with the people you choose to be around.
Young adults would rather you didn’t ask about personal matters such as school or whether they are dating anyone. It’s better if you ask what they do for fun or what great movies they have seen lately. These topics are safer and less likely to embarrass them.
Don’t try to convert or lecture anyone on your ideas, beliefs or opinions. This party is not the right time for a debate. Obviously, don’t bring up controversial topics like politics or religion.
Drink too much
Don’t drink too much, especially if it tends to make you more confrontational or easily upset. Avoid sarcasm, correcting or criticizing anyone.
Remember, you are not responsible for other people’s happiness. If others choose to complain about the food, gossip about others, or share their woes too freely, leave the room, ignore them, or change the subject.
Give anyone the power to hurt you
Dealing with family members can be tricky because you care more about what they think than others. These are people who should love and support you, so when they don’t it hurts. Decide before your family event to trust that no one can diminish your value in any way. You have the same value as every other human soul and nothing can change that. This will make you more bulletproof.
If someone offers unsolicited advice, just smile and thank them. People often give advice to make themselves feel important too. It’s not really about you; don’t waste time being bothered by it.
When your family is hard to deal with, remember that these people are in your life for a reason: to help you become a better person. Their job in your classroom (life) journey might be to push your buttons and bring your fears and bad behavior into the light so you can work on them.
Ask yourself what dealing with your specific relatives could teach you. How could their annoying tendencies give you the perfect opportunity to practice being more loving, mature and calm? If you see them as your perfect teachers and try to use these experiences to grow and learn, you will at least feel good about yourself on the way home.
You can do this.
Coach Kim, I am in a very difficult family situation. My mother and her sister have a bad relationship, and my mom feels her sister is toxic and avoids her at family gatherings. I completely respect my mother’s decision; however, she expects me to also not have any relationship with my aunt. She says if I was loyal and loved her, then I wouldn’t have anything to do with my aunt either. This puts me in a hard spot because my aunt has always been kind to me. I don’t like confrontation and I don’t want to ignore her at family gatherings. It’s hard being caught in the middle, and no matter what I do no one wins. Thank you for any advice you can give.
The real question behind your question is: When forced to choose between doing what feels right to you and pleasing someone else (sacrificing yourself to make another person happy), what should you do?
This is a situation we all find ourselves in on a regular basis. It is the reason we need boundaries, or rules to protect us from our tendency to over give.
I’d like to give you a simple procedure to break these situations down and help you make the right choice. If there is another person involved in this situation, take a minute to answer the following questions:
Write down as many possible options as you can think of, then write an ego/fear-driven way to carry out each option and a trust/love way to do each option. Finally, cross out all the ego/fear-driven options.
I will take you through this process in your specific situation.
The fears in play
I think your mom has both fears in play. She is likely having a fear of loss issue because she is trying to protect herself from further mistreatment. She could also have fear of failure in play, which is saying she has to be right about her sister being the bad guy or she will feel inadequate or flawed. These fears cause her ego to step up to protect her.
Whenever we feel hurt or offended, our ego’s job is to create stories that make us feel safer. It often suggests stories that cast the other person as the villain so we can see ourselves as the victim.
Understanding the other person’s behavior as fear-driven will bring compassion into the picture. They aren’t messed up, broken or bad; they are just scared.
Ego tells us to hold onto our anger toward the other person or we won’t be safe; it keeps us in a defensive position and stubbornly insists on staying there to make us feel safe.
Understanding the other person’s behavior as fear-driven will bring compassion into the picture. They aren’t messed up, broken or bad; they are just scared. This is easy to see, too, because all bad behavior is driven by fear. (If you haven’t seen the truth around this yet, keep looking. It’s there)
When you see your mom is scared of failure and loss, you will also see what she needs: validation and reassurance. Your mom is afraid of mistreatment and afraid of being wrong. Her ego needs you to justify she is right in her anger because that would make her feel safer. If you can reassure her that she is loved, valued and safe in the world, that would help her.
It sounds like you have some fear of loss in play, as well. You don’t want to lose your relationship with your aunt and you don’t want to lose your relationship with your mom, either. You also don’t want to lose your agency and the right to choose behavior that is best for you. This is why the situation is causing you so much angst. You will feel better if you trust the universe will use this situation to bless and grow you, no matter what happens.
You also have every right to choose who you have relationships with, and your mom should honor that, but her fear and ego would feel safer if you would join her in anger. This isn’t fair, but you can understand why it happens. A sense of safety is our most foundational need as human beings. When we don’t feel safe, we are incapable of caring about others. Your mom is struggling to see your needs because fear keeps her overly focused on her own.
Ways to respond
As far as your options in this situation, I can see three (but notice that each option can be done two different ways, so really there are six):
Cross out options 1, 3, and 5 because they are fear-motivated and you shouldn’t make any decision for a fear reason.
Look over the love-motivated options and choose the one you feel the most capable to do or the one that feels right to you. Personally, I think option 2 or 6 are the best.
Executing your response
When you are ready to talk to your mom about this, start by asking her questions about how she is feeling about your aunt. Give her room to make her case and vent all her pain and fear. Do not agree or disagree, just validate her right to be where she is and feel how she feels. Tell her you can understand why she feels this way.
After she feels fully heard, ask if she would be willing to let you explain your decision on your own behavior. Ask her if she would honor your right to feel what you feel too.
Using mostly “I” statements, not “you” statements, explain to your mother that you must honor your truth and choose a love-motivated response to this situation. Explain that you love her, but you can’t reject or give a cold shoulder to other people. Having said that, you would never judge or condemn her for feeling what she is feeling. You honor and respect her right to be where she is, and you hope she can give you the same back.
Then, after you have spoken your truth and honored your own boundary, what she says, does, or thinks about you and your decision is not your problem. If she chooses to be mad at you, keep being loving toward her anyway. Do not let anyone else’s bad behavior stop you from being loving toward them. Stay consistently kind to everyone and, in the end, though her ego might be mad, she will respect your strength and maturity.
You can do this.
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These articles were originally published on KSL.COM
Kimberly Giles is the president and founder of Claritypoint Life Coaching and 12 SHAPES INC. She is an author and professional speaker. She was named one of the top 20 advice gurus in the country by Good Morning America in 2010. She appears regularly on local and national TV and Radio.