This week in The Brain BS™ Blog and Podcast we are going to explore how to handle holiday gatherings in a way that can work for us. I could include a lot of information here, but I am choosing to focus on just a few basic principles for the purpose of this post due to time constraints. First, we will look at the importance of being accountable in our relationships and taking responsibility for our emotional health. Next, we will look at how this begins with our relationship with ourselves and why that must be our number one priority. Then we will discuss the advantage of looking at every interaction as an opportunity for personal growth and why we must do that if we want to put our best foot forward this holiday season.
Okay, let’s start with accountability and responsibility in relation to our emotional health. As humans with brains, we like to blame everybody else for the way we are feeling. Our brains actually prefer to be in victim mode because it feels comfortable and safe to us, especially when we are hanging out with our family of origin. Why is that? Mostly because we have brain filters that have been in place for a very long time that sort of dictate our role in our families. Those filters translate to habitual patterns and negative behaviors that we resort to for years, even decades if we do not become self-aware. We usually don’t see our own behavior as clearly as we see our loved ones, which is where mirroring comes in. Mirroring is when we see our own behavior reflected in those around us. This is the Universe’s way of helping us to see things about ourselves that our brain is trying to hide from us. For example, I might think a sibling is being super judgmental about an opinion I have and get upset by that. Here is the thing though, when I determine that somebody else is being very judgmental and critical, I am being critical and judgmental of them! See how this works? Whenever we are triggered by somebody else’s behavior it is because we are capable of doing the same thing, but we just are not acknowledging that. If we do not acknowledge our faults and imperfections, we cannot be accountable for them.
In terms of responsibility, we alone are responsible for our emotional state. We have a very long history with our families and usually many unresolved issues that have not been addressed over the years. We tend to squash down anything that would require us to initiate an uncomfortable conversation and often times resort to an avoidant approach instead, so we do not rock the boat. This can lead to resentment and pent-up emotions over the years that become embedded in our subconscious and impact our relationships with loved ones. When this happens, we are basically being programmed by our past and living in automatic mode, instead of living consciously. What do I mean by that? I mean we have to live our lives from an awakened state of self-awareness so that we can create the results we want. We must learn to manage our minds and choose thoughts on purpose that work for us. Our thoughts create feelings, those lead to actions, and that is how we get our results. Therefore, in order to take responsibility for our emotional state, we must start with self-awareness and reprogram our subconscious.
Alright, let’s look at why our relationship with ourselves is so important when we get around other people. It is important to understand that in order to have successful relationships with other humans, we must first cultivate a kind and loving relationship with ourselves. We also must practice self-care daily to stay in alignment with our higher selves. What might that look like? Well for beginners, a balanced diet and regular exercise is helpful. Limiting alcohol intake and daily meditation can also promote peace of mind and a kinder outlook on life. Probably not a good idea to show up to the event with a hangover and a really bad mood. From a less physical standpoint, we have to be willing to make ourselves and our needs a priority at times. We cannot just keep people pleasing and saying yes when we really mean no. For example, we cannot agree to bring the turkey this year if we are short on cash and cannot afford it. We cannot say we are happy to make all of the desserts if we really prefer to just make one. We cannot accept the invitation to share the holiday with others if we really prefer to be somewhere else but are just too afraid to say that. We have to be able to set clear boundaries and reinforce them. We must honor ourselves and have our own backs and sometimes this means we must experience the discomfort that comes with being honest and authentic. The reason why this is so important is we often times think it is other people’s behavior that bothers us and upsets us, but really it is who we become in those situations that causes us to suffer. We don’t like being a phony people- pleaser who is afraid to stand up for ourselves for fear of what other people may think of us. In fact, it is so unpleasant that we are not even aware that is the problem because our brain shields us from our faults.
The last point I want to make about the importance of our relationship with ourselves is that if we do not love ourselves and accept our limitations, we will never believe that anybody else does. It doesn’t matter how much our family and friends might love us, we will never believe it if we do not feel that same way about ourselves. When we look at it this way, making ourselves a priority and learning how to truly cultivate self-love is the most selfless thing we can do in the long run.
Now that we have talked about taking responsibility for our emotions and the importance of self-love, I want to talk a little bit about how to reframe the way we think about family time. I don’t know about you, but there were times over the years where I dreaded going home for the holidays for various reasons. It could have been that I gained weight and I felt gross and fat. It could have been that I was still single in my late 30s with no prospects in sight. It could have been that I had a recent tiff with a family member and did not want to confront them. I could go on and on with all the Brain BS™ that can cause us pain and suffering when we are getting ready to see family during the holidays. The thoughts feel soooooooo real when we are experiencing them that we forget that they are not factual and even more importantly, that they are optional! If you notice however, you would not be having the thoughts I have listed here if you loved yourself. All of those negative thoughts I had over the years were because I did not have a loving relationship with myself. Once you cultivate that, you are ready to take on anything that comes up over the holidays.
Which brings me to a very important practice that can help us to change the way we look at anything challenging or what we perceive to be negative. If we can look at each and every one of those situations and the people who help to create them as an opportunity to experience personal growth, that sort of changes everything, doesn’t it? Instead of dreading uncomfortable situations or confrontations with people where we might fear feeling a little awkward, we can get curious about how the situation or person can help us to grow. Let me give you a few scenarios to illustrate what I am talking about.
Let’s say you get to your sister in law’s home for the holiday and there is a lot of hustle and bustle going on. When you arrive to the scene, it suddenly gets a little quiet. In the past, this might have triggered fears and worries that they had been talking about you and that maybe you did something wrong without being aware of it (filters!). However, with the new mindset that every situation and person is a growing opportunity, we can instead get curious about what is happening in our brain. The first thing we would do is identify the brain filter that is being triggered and distance ourselves from the associated emotion. We become the observer of the thought and don’t buy into it for a second. This is where we choose between reacting or responding and trust me when I say, responding is always the way to go. We respond after we hold space for our fellow human and give them the benefit of a doubt. We envision all the possible scenarios that could have led to the behaviors witnessed and decide to make the reason work in our favor since we know it is optional. This permits us to emit a more positive frequency to our families and that is what we attract back to us. A good question here to ask yourself if you are getting stuck and unable to believe a positive thought, is would you rather be right or would you rather be happy? The only way that we ever suffer is because we are believing the Brain BS™ being offered to us by our ego.
Let’s look at another example of how every situation is an opportunity to grow. In this scenario, we are heading to our parent’s house for the annual Thanksgiving dinner. We were assigned to bring the sweet potatoes and a dessert and have them in the car with us. In our subconscious mode, we have not even arrived to the house yet and are already ruminating about how one of our siblings never brings anything to contribute to the meal or helps clean up afterwards. We start to think back to previous holidays where this pattern started and how it repeats itself every year. We think about whose fault it is that it has been able to continue to happen and we beat ourselves up for our inability to speak up and set limits with this person. We talk about it with our spouse on our way to the family celebration, so they can reinforce our right to be resentful toward this person. This always makes for a delightful gathering, LOL.
If we look at the situation as an opportunity to grow, we will address it quite differently. First off, we will stay present in the moment and not ruminate about stuff that has happened in the past. Instead of complaining to our spouse about that sibling, we will instead give that brother the