Sunday, September 9, 2012

Families! With a capital F.

   While feeling frustrated about my own family, I googled a question: "Is it wrong to not want to spend time with your family?" (I don't mean my spouse and children. I mean parents, certain aunts, in-laws, meddlesome, nosey grandmas that should be sweet but instead are vultures for all up to date details about your life. You know 'em, you have 'em.) What I found online amazed me. Countless numbers of people that are not just occasionally frustrated, but absolutely tormented by the family antics they face. It seems no where else in the rest of your life do you endure the guilt manipulation and judgement that comes from your own family. How ridiculous. Ideally, people should only have to tolerate manipulation and judgement from extremely high paying jobs, and have support and understanding from their family. So you wonder: Why do families do this?

    Why is it your sibling just wont stop being so competitive, antagonistic, or grow up? Why won't your mother stop criticizing and correcting the most trivial, meaningless detail? And, why wont your Dad get off your case about what you should have done with your life? Why do some distant relatives greedily satiate their need to know every detail when you hardly see them? How can they not recognize that their behavior closely resembles a junkie in need of a fix. It's like, their information fix. 

      I used to come home from family gatherings feeling like I had been pecked apart by a flock of starving, ravenous chickens. They were starved for information and details, and I was a fresh pail of grain because I hadn't seen them in a year. No wonder. It was exhausting. A repeated bombardment all night of the same questions: "What are you doing now?" "What's your next move?" "What's your plan after that?" "How is that going to work?" "Who are you dating?" "What does he do?" Then there was the inevitable planting of guilt seeds about their not seeing me enough, (even though I was there now, and I hadn't heard from them all year either!) So, for many years, I was polite, cooperated with the interrogations, repressed my frustration, stuffed my face, and went home with a swirling, cluttered, confused head. It was a relief to not have to see them again until the next holiday party. This was not my idea of family time. It was disheartening: the way they squeezed out all the details they wanted, then moved on to the next person. I didn't feel cared for.

    Then, I just stopped going. I realized, I don't WANT to go!! I want to relax and enjoy myself, not force myself to endure being pecked at to fulfill a guilt-driven obligation. I woke up about how much I dreaded the party approaching. I had anxiety before I even got there. I pictured myself at the party snapping out and making a scene and hurling the potato salad across the room. Then, all of them standing there frozen with their mouths hanging open actually surprised. (Then, at least, I would burst out laughing!) But, in all sense, How ridiculousWhy would I want to continue doing that? I stayed home. I spent the whole day in pajamas, I relaxed, made myself a lovely dinner at a leisurely pace, and snuggled my dog while having egg nog in a martini glass. I watched a movie I loved and could hardly stop grinning all evening. When I was ready, I slept peacefully with gratitude and the realization: It is impossible to change all of them. I am only responsible for changing me. 
....And, guess what! I felt very, very cared for!

     There are two main parts to "dealing" with family. The first part is to take ownership of what you do, and how you feel. Stop allowing the family to use guilt to control you. If they control what you do, then they control your emotions as well. If you are legally an adult, you are under no obligation to spend time with people that cause you stress. 

     The second part is to stop expecting your family's behavior to change. You can't change them as people. And, you only have a chance to change the way they treat you if you are willing to confront them. Take note first if you are being overly sensitive to her (let's say it's a her) comments. Does she make those comments to everyone, or just you? If confronting her is in order, do it lightly and move on. Don't make it a big intervention, and do NOT pull her aside and speak to her privately. The extra listeners will usually help change the subject. In addition, if you are dealing with a really manipulative person, you may learn later she repeated a very different version of what you really said to her! You could simply say, "I'm not sure what you meant when you said that, what exactly did you mean?" This brings attention to her questionable comments, and she will likely back off. You may have to do it more than once, but she will learn that you are no fun to pick on.

     Remember there is not a black or white answer that will resolve everything. There are numerous choices with how to deal with your family. It's not a choice of: do what they say, or loose them forever. There can be a balance! This year you feel like staying home, so stay home. Don't explain. If they refuse to let you off the hook without an explanation, simply say, "Thanks, but I want to stay in for a change - doesn't mean I'll stay in forever! You guys have fun!" Then move on to something else.

   This is a subject that should be extended upon, and it certainly will. Families are something you will deal with your entire life, and there are so many odd scenarios! We have much more to talk about!


       Love and care for yourself well!