THE BLOG
10/10/2014 12:17 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

When Loved Ones Aren't Very Loving

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With the holiday season approaching, this is a good time to take stock of our own behavior in relation to our loved ones. For many of us, gathering with our families and friends for holidays, weddings, funerals and other events is a dreaded experience. Unless we have deeply worked on our own personal growth and/or been blessed with a truly loving and nurturing family, childhood dynamics and family dysfunctions tend to rule the day.

If this is true for you, ask yourself these questions. What role do you tend to play in these dramas? Are you consistently kind to everyone? Or, do you reject certain ones and favor others? Do you hold grudges that have been festering for years. Or are you one who stands by pretending not to see the elephant in the room -- one that has perhaps been there for many, many years. Do you strive to truly demonstrate loving kindness for everyone there? In what ways do you contribute to the discord? Do you see yourself as a helpless and innocent victim? Are you someone who thinks you are somehow better than everyone else? What kind of attitude and behaviors do you contribute?

In many families at least one giant elephant of discord sits in the room and there is a silent conspiracy that everyone participates in pretending not to see it or to do anything to get rid of it. Perhaps there is a drug-addicted child, or an alcoholic parent, or a nasty, judgmental sister, a boring uncle, a nerd, or someone you hold a grudge against.

If this kind of thing is true of your family or among your circle of friends, is there something you might do to contribute to healing the situation rather than going along with the same old dysfunctional dynamic? It takes courage to go against the tide - to name the elephant and to initiate efforts to get it out of the room. But, consider the alternative of letting things continue to fester and foregoing the possibility of having a mutually respectful and enjoyable time together.

Consider the following example. I know one family with two sisters and a brother in the middle who have put up with the older sister's judgments and rejection of the younger sister for decades. Every family gathering is tainted by what Louis Auchincloss so aptly describes as "all the while scarlet thoughts, putrid fantasies, and no love" fills the air. What appears to be happening is that the elder sister feels that her disdain is justified by her judgments of her sister. The brother maintains separate relationships with his sisters and tries to be a good sport and peacemaker gathering everyone together as though unconscious of the feud. Meanwhile, the younger sister having suffered through years of these gatherings, and after making numerous attempts to talk to her sister about healing the discord between them, has withdrawn from family gatherings.

If this kind of drama sounds familiar to you, consider what you might do differently and what is at stake. Why should everyone have to suffer because someone doesn't like one of the family or group of friends? Why not challenge that person either privately or publicly and let them know that their behavior has negative consequences for everyone else involved? Why not go on record as being unwilling to support this kind of behavior in the future? Ask the person what they are making more important then loving one another. Or, perhaps you could let the apparent victim know that you care about their wellbeing and do not approve of the aggressor's behavior. The term 'loved ones' implies special status -- our inner circle. Yet, some of us are kinder to total strangers than to those with whom we share our lives.

As adults we are each responsible and accountable for what we create, promote, and allow in our lives and how our behavior affects others - no matter how justifiable we believe our attitudes and behaviors to be. At the end of the day, we are either contributing to more loving kindness for all involved or more distress and discord. Is there something you might do differently next time to make nothing more important that being loving and kind to one another?

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