THE BLOG

Family Matters

11/07/2013 09:28 pm ET | Updated Jan 23, 2014
  • Laurie Gerber Senior Coach, Co-President of Handel Group Life Coaching

The holidays are approaching. We have to face the facts. We'll be dealing with family, whether avoiding them, hosting them, being hosted by them or mourning the loss of them. Our family relationships are arguably our most important ones (blood is thicker than water, remember?), and yet they are such a source of struggle for so many of us. Take a minute to just jot down your feelings and fears at the mere mention of your family. And by the way, you count, too, if you know you are just going to go home and regress, and then feel sort of like a loser. You don't have to have serious trauma to join in this conversation!

For most of us, when we go down this thought path, one major relationship comes to mind, mom, dad or a sibling, accompanied by some form of feeling powerless. Maybe you've tried to understand why you get so triggered, or maybe you've tried to express to the family member what keeps upsetting you and you feel like it fell on deaf ears. That can be heartbreaking, and so by now, there is a big part of you that has given up and put all your hopes for the relationship in a "compartment" so you don't have to feel hurt or sad on a regular basis. Most of us do allow a little resentment or anger though and that doesn't help or make us feel better really.

Having seen so, so, so many people heal and improve their relationships with family members, I have to make the pitch to you to go try one more time! But this time, I want you to have these tools and perspectives behind you:

You are not really unique.
I know that sounds terrible, but it could also sound like a relief. The apple really does not fall far from the tree, and apples from the same tree are more alike than different!

Many of us feel very frustrated when we find ourselves "stuck" with certain personality traits or patterns that undermine us. For example, we always pick "fixer uppers" to date, we give up on dreams that involve too much perceived risk, we aren't good at asking for or holding onto money, we keep going back to our (food) addiction. Rarely does a person completely understand how they got to be who they are, because we do not study our family and lineage as we should. If we did, thoroughly and lovingly, we'd find we have all the traits and patterns of our parents and those who raised us, in one form or another.

Very important: I do not teach you this to make you feel trapped, or to give you the right to blame your parents or to get you off the hook from changing the patterns! Instead, I want you to have the awareness and the ability to forgive both them and you for the things that aren't working. The first step to making change is to acknowledge and understand what's not working. Then accept it. Then make plans to alter it. Denial, blame or over-analysis will slow you down.

Pick one pattern with that family member with whom you've been struggling and commit to shifting it over the upcoming holiday.

You haven't learned -- yet -- to have productive conversations.
Most of us think we've tried because we've complained to the family member about what we don't like. That's not nearly enough to move everyone to higher ground! There is a way to design a conversation with someone you love that will work, but it takes some effort and some willingness to eat humble pie. It starts with us owning our stuff. Every crappy relationship has a dynamic to it. We pick and manifest everyone in our lives for a reason, so every hard interaction or dynamic has a lesson to teach. Are you busy complaining, resisting or sulking? Or are you busy learning?

It's your life and your family to improve. I know you can do it because I have seen people in terrible family situations heroically heal their families. The question is, will you appoint yourself healer? This doesn't mean you sacrifice yourself, or martyr yourself. Quite the opposite. It means you lead with compassion and strength. Isn't that who you want to be in your life anyway? If you can be that with your family, you can be that anywhere.

Practice time! I challenge you to figure out what you bring to the dynamic with your family member, and own up to it before you have any more talks about what they do that doesn't work. This holiday season, commit to owning up to stuff with your family and showing them what that looks like. Also see if you can learn something new about the person with whom you struggle, maybe even one new thing a day. You find what you look for, and what you focus on, expands. So start looking for the solutions to your relationship, rather than what's wrong.

Love, Laurie

P.S. -- There is a real method to understanding your family, its history and its impact on you and your current life. If you are curious to learn more about that, as well as very practical ways to have healing conversations with your family members, come to Wake up Your Week. Our topic is Family starting November 18. We're getting everyone ready for the most important thing about the holidays!

For more by Laurie Gerber, click here.

For more on conscious relationships, click here.