Even though most people look forward to eating a traditional Thanksgiving dinner with family, there are a few who get a little anxious when they think about seeing people they haven’t talked to for a while or people they don’t feel like they get along with. I think most people have experienced some anxiety at some point in their lives while anticipating a family dinner or event.
Thanksgiving is one of the most uniting holidays we have in the United States. It is a time when families reflect upon what they are thankful for that year. They come together with warm hearts and loving words. Or do they?
I have heard of Thanksgiving family gatherings which don’t go according to plan. People are unkind to each other or argue about differences of opinion. Some people come to family dinners with agendas to change a certain person or to teach someone a lesson they won’t forget. It only takes one person to spoil a whole family event. Don’t let yourself be that person this year.
If your family has a history of not getting along when you gather for family holidays prepare yourself so that you will not get sucked in to old habits. For indeed, the way we communicate, whether negative or positive, with our family members is largely based on the way we have trained ourselves to communicate. Our methods of relating are deeply ingrained habits.
There was a time when I realized I was in a habit of relating selfishly with a family member. It really damaged my spirit for a time. I couldn’t go to a family event without playing out scenarios of what ‘might happen’ when I arrived or if I said something. The dramatic mental scenes didn’t stop until the family event was over. Did I enjoy my time with family? Sometimes. But, usually I was so caught up in myself and my mental drama that I couldn’t really enjoy anyone’s company. And, I’m sure they felt my distance. I just didn’t allow myself to connect to family.
The happy ending to this part of my life was that I figured out what to do to take control of my happiness again. I learned how to stop the negative programing and thoughts. I even learned how to love and accept again. All of this was accomplished by teaching myself self-government skills which could be used for family parties and events.
Here are the 10 self-government principles which changed my family parties forever.
- Be Grateful. Remember the theme of the day. Before going and while with family, think of the reasons you are grateful for your relationship with that person or for the services they give the family and the world. If you feel it is appropriate, you can also share words of gratitude with this family member. Honest praise always unites. An attitude of gratitude is a beginning for love.
- Don’t compete. Be happy for their successes. Our society has trained us to compete with each other. We have been indoctrinated with the lie that says in order to be a success you have to be better than someone else. This paradigm is false. Be happy for other people’s successes. When you do this you will teach yourself more about their value, and they will feel valued by you.
- Set the right tone. The way you feel is the most important part of any relationship you have. So, make sure that when you are preparing to go to Thanksgiving, and while you are there, that you feel calm, loving, comfortable, non-judgmental, and safe to talk to. Deliberately let down your emotional walls in order to let your family members in.
- Show interest. Talk about them. I remember when I started to date, my mother told me that if I wanted my date to have a good time with me, then I needed to keep him talking about himself. People like to tell their story. Don’t worry so much about telling your story as about finding out everyone else’s story.
- Don’t bring up the past. Very occasionally it could be appropriate to apologize at a family event for past mistakes, but usually it is easier for everyone there if you just move on. Pretend nothing happened and that you are over it for that day. In fact, get over it. And, if you do have to talk about something relating to a negative experience from the past, do it in private with the spirit of love. However, remember that most people feel the most comfortable if you just move on and forgive.
- Pray for love and forgiveness. There is no greater step you can take to have a unifying family holiday than to pray to love those you have fallen out of love with and to be forgiven for your part of whatever problems have occurred. It doesn’t matter how badly someone has hurt you, holding bad feelings inside only hurts you in the end. They shorten your life and increase drama and stress. To decrease stress ask God to feel more love for those who are hard to love right now.
- Don’t over do it! Awkward! As you are trying to move past the bad experiences from the past be relaxed. You don’t need to push too hard. So many people are obsessed with seeing and feeling that they are accepted again and that they are forgiven. In an effort to be healed they start dominating conversations and seeking attention in annoying ways. Slow down, you will completely heal in time.
- Be patient. Trust that the other person wants to move past things too. Give them time. They may not be chatty with you this time the family meets, but could feel ready next time. Your accepting and loving tone will show them that it is safe to repair the relationship.
- Trust in their goodness. Give them the benefit of the doubt. Most all people want to do good. Trust that this person who annoys you or makes life difficult really wants to do good things and make your life enjoyable. They really do. However, people often have a hard time making their actions match their desires. Be prepared for this to happen, and don’t worry.
- Respect their wishes and don’t take anything personally. If that person you are not really speaking to or getting along with right now doesn’t show any signs of wanting to unify the relationship, don’t worry, and don’t take it personally. If you have forgiven them and have learned to love them, then the rest of the relationship repair work is up to them. Let them do things in their own time and love them all the more during their struggles.
Life really is short. Family really is dear. Don’t waste time creating destructive dramatic situations when you could deliberately choose to connect and unify the relationships instead.
May your 2012 Thanksgiving and Christmas gatherings be filled with love, unity, and peace this year!