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Learning to Love From Afar

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Erin asked:

All I wanted this Christmas was some understanding, some affection from my mother, for once. This year has been so painful since my eight year old daughter, Amy, died on Halloween. All I've wanted is my mom to 'show up,' to think of what this might be like for us. She avoided my son's birthday on November 5th, stayed away on Thanksgiving, and wants to know what I'll be fixing for Christmas dinner at our house for her. I'm having trouble getting out of bed, much less going to work, but we need the money. How is it that my mother expects me to mother her when I don't have enough juice to stay in my own skin?

Good question, Erin. During this time of year, while holiday music courts holiday shoppers to join the frenzied shoppers, private questions haunt the most loving hearts, and answers can be difficult to find. Following last week's article (entitled "How to Mend Bridges with Estranged Family Members During the Holidays,") I was barraged by private e-mails in record numbers. Turns out many of the 'relationship faithful' are frantically turning cartwheels to cling to love, to no avail.

The question that arises is, when is it time to let love go, and love "long distance?" Many suffer love's disappointments privately, profoundly. No wonder the Holiday Blues are well-known by clinicians, as we are besieged for "emergency sessions."

For those of you who know this situation firsthand, or observe it in those you love, the following 8 point checklist is offered, including traps to avoid and corresponding antidotes to make this your most liberated holiday ever.

Trap #1: Failing To develop Plan B or Plan C.
Antidote: Always create a back-up plan. Even if you don't need it, having an alternative in your "back pocket" can do wonders in helping you to relax. Let's say, for example, you have an estranged family member who refuses to get with the program, and let bygones be bygones. Take the reader whose brother has refused contact with his family for ten years due to his own complicated bereavement regarding their mother. Remember the adage from Richard Bach some years back? He wrote: "True family rarely grows up under the same roof."
Let's take a hint. If your family member refuses to play, what about bringing a chosen brother or a special friend during the holiday feast, who you adore? I don't know a family that wouldn't benefit by more love at the hearth!

Trap #2: Playing fortune teller. Most give way to this temptation. No good comes of it! Says a HuffPost reader:

My husband and I are dealing ...with our son. It is heartbreaking. He is the father of our only 3 grandchildren. ... I ... fear I will not see my grandchildren growing up.

Apparently this reader has been exiled from Christmas dinner with her son and grandchildren for the past 8 years.

We can imagine how easy it would be to fall into a fear-based relationship with the future when love has been withheld so long. What would you do? We both know that future fantasies are dangerous business. We cannot predict what will come down the road five minutes from now, much less later. What we can do is face the situation squarely. If our family member stonewalls our expressions of love, it's time to let go, and find a more expansive outlet for our love. The fact is that there comes a time to let go.

Letting go in love can be the very best medicine for ulcerating wounds that refuse all healing. In clinical care, when an infection has become dire, the hospital staff dons special gloves and garb, and does whatever it must do to isolate the harmful bacteria from spreading. Physical wounds may be more visible to 'see,' than those which cause heartache. This does not, however, excuse us from the need to attend the invisible hurts in ourselves and those we love.

Antidote: Identify your need, and find a healthy outlet for love. During the holidays especially, we tend to over-sentimentalize family relationships, getting frustrated when it ain't necessarily so. Remember the old song's refrain "Let It Snow...Let it Snow, Let it Snow?" This may be the time when the most loving thing is to shift the lyric to "Let it Go, Let it Go, Let it Go." When you've done all that you can to build bridges, and still fail, when you've demonstrated "courage beyond the pale," it just may be time to garner serenity to let what is be, and move on. There are plenty of children out there, who, while they may not be related by blood, they are in major need of grandparent types who know how to give love away. It does take a village. In our reader's case, she and her husband are opening their doors to Christmas after nearly a decade, and inviting other families to the table who want to be there. They've chosen to live in the present, in love.

Trap #3: Believing that your job is to fix anything out of whack. One of the shortcomings of the feminine gone haywire is a diffuse relating to all things without discernment. It's healthy to relate to that which is healthy. It's unhealthy to slap a band-aid over a wound and pretend it isn't there. Magical thinking doesn't work.

Antidote: Surrender the need to play superhero. They only live in the comics. As HuffPost reader sonoffestus put so clearly: "Not all situations require a fix. Sometimes it is best to move on. Don't trip over what is behind you."

Trap #4: Meddling. Intruding ourselves into the suffering of others without an invitation tends to go poorly for all concerned. There's a reason for this called choice. We each are given the gift of free choice. Or, as my mama used to say it in Finn (freely translated): "You make your bed, you lay in it."

Antidote: Reframe the situation as one which calls forth growth through each participant's love and forgiveness of the self, first. As HuffPost blogger, Alexia, writes:

Recognizing that all suffering is part of one's spiritual path. To try to step between someone and their pain is to deny them the opportunity to understand the deeper meaning of that moment.

Trap #5: Dwelling in the Do-Do. One reader wrote the following: "My sister has insisted for the past 7 years that we all go to her house for Christmas, because she does it 'the right way.' It takes us five hours to drive there, and once there, there's nothing but tension. We're all miserable. She plays the martyr. It's horrible. We'd feel guilty unless we were there. Her husband and kids bailed on her long ago."

Antidote: Let the dead bury the dead. Sounds harsh, I know. But, if you keep running in there to rescue the martyr, who again, is responsible? If you are miserable in her vicinity, take yourself out of the equation. Tell her the truth. Yes, ouch. If no one tells the truth, how is anyone supposed to grow? You tell me.

Antidote #2: Build Better Boundaries. Truth telling builds better boundaries. No one runs over your boundary unless you let them. Restrict what you allow. This is basics for improved self-care.

Trap #6: Pushing Yourself Before You are Ready.
Jackandcoke writes:

I have a fence that needs mending with a close family member but can't bring myself to the level of vulnerability I once did. Vulnerability sucks! And there is peace in staying away from them and not allowing them into my space. Every year at this time my wife prods me to reach out to them. But I guess I'm not that big of a person. Your principles all sound great and I know they can work but I'm not there yet. I have resolved to save myself and not let them take me down. It doesn't help that the person suffers from paranoid personality disorder and chooses when they want to take the prescribed medication.

Antidote: Self-forgiveness means finding and honoring your own way to growth. I may get crucified for saying this, but it is so. Mental illness can wear out the best of us. Because it is "invisible" to the naked eye, the family of someone with a mental illness can get so worn out trying to fix things that you end up losing yourself in the process. Stop it! You sinking into the ditch will not help someone else climb out of theirs. If you've got a ladder to offer an assist, and they ask for it, that's one thing. But, when the other person does little to help themself, and this includes taking their meds, let them go. You are not the Second Coming. Let go. Love from a distance. You'll both be better for it.

Trap #7: Taking Closed Doors Personally. More often than not, I've heard stories of people who have friendships, that end up in self-destruct with no explanation. The longer the friendship, the easier it is to get hooked for an explanation, which may not be forthcoming. Here's an example written by another HuffPost reader:

A couple of years ago, I suffered very much through a string of about 18 separate deaths of friends, colleagues and family members, roughly once a month for about a year and a half. In the middle of it I was just stunned, 'shell shocked,' and I fell into a pretty deep depression. And it's been hard to get out of it and has taken a pretty long time. As if all that weren't bad enough, I went to visit a long-time older friend I was turning to for some consoling and maybe advice, and to my great surprise he accused me of trying to manipulate him and he cut off our friendship. ...I have no idea what might have brought this about -- must be he had his own unresolved losses, I s'pose.

Antidote: Expand your list of new friend applicants. Remain in a steady state of new enrollment. Begin with a written/verbal acknowledgment of your friend and your gratitude for the past, and let them go in love. Let them know you are doing so. If you like, tell them the 'latchkey is open,' and the past is the past. Move on down the road. Forget waiting and twiddling your thumbs.

Trap #8: Believing Estrangement is Only "Out There."
We may believe we are dealing with our brothers, sisters, mothers, fathers, sons and daughters, but we aren't. Ultimately, we are really dealing with ourselves. When our buttons get pushed by these problematic characters in our lives, we are reacting, not responding in ways supportive to our own best self. Sounds narcissistic, I know. But it is true. The distinction is that the narcissistic personality sees everyone as a means to one's own needs, feeling secretly empty inside.

That is not what we are talking about here! Here, we are addressing the healing relationship with our spiritual core, our most Authentic Self. Here we are addressing letting go of grasping for approval from someone else's cup. Sometimes awakening to more good in your life downright insists that you let go in love all that causes injury.

Our job is not to change anyone. The best we can hope for is to come into a healthier relationship, a kinder, more compassionate relationship with our own Best Self, doing what we can to grow, releasing what causes stagnation, and cultivating the Wisdom to know the difference.

When do you know it's time to "let go in love?" What has helped you to do this? What have you gained? I'm listening!

For more, see carabarker.net. For updates, contact me at carabarker.net, or dr.carabarker@gmail.com. To save time, click on Become a Fan. Stay tuned for upcoming developments with The Love Project, including "Practicing Love." I've got a great idea for those of you who are willing to step out on the playing field and have an amazing time. Stay tuned! Follow Dr. Cara Barker on www.twitter.com/DrCaraBarker.

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