Unwrapping the Gift of Change in Family Dynamics
The holiday season and the end of the year can be a wonderful opportunity to choose to communicate consciously with family and friends. I often hear from some of you that the holidays are challenging because you will be spending time with people with whom you have established challenging communication dynamics. In many cases, these dynamics lead us feeling disappointed, frustrated and unseen for who you are.
These dynamics developed years ago and took years to set. You and our loved ones played into these roles repeatedly. This repetition makes them seem so solid and established that it’s hard to believe you can change them.
Ways of relating with others only solidify when you continue to participate in them habitually.
This is why (you may have guessed where I’m going here) you DO have the POWER to shift the dynamic!
How do you do that, you may wonder.
The simple answer is with effort and choice. And I want to offer you practical tools you can use –in your own way- to stop engaging in the same old games that lead you to dread the holiday season and come away unsatisfied.
A Caveat: Even though the answer is simple, it’s not easy.
If you are working with me one-on-one in transforming relationship dynamics, you know we’ve role-played new ways of communicating, took notes and engaged in empathic inquiries. So, if this is your first attempt, I recommend you read this a few times, find ways to roleplay with a neutral person, and take notes.
And of course, things might not go perfectly at first.
Honestly, it took me years to show up consistently in alignment with who I am and to communicate consciously. And I still have some dynamics in which I need to choose to make a lot of effort. It helps to fortify your motivation by seeing that you are creating the possibility of something new and more satisfying.
All changes in relationship dynamics require the same three elements:
1 Identifying the players’ roles in the specific dynamic
If you want to shift a dynamic, you need to know what you and the other person(s) do and how you each react.
Is it that your parents ask you too many questions about your personal life and you shut down because you want privacy? Is it that your sister communicates passive aggressively with you and you get defensive and say things you later regret? Is it that you and your uncle tend to get into a shouting match about your political views?
Get to know how you both get hooked into the dynamic.
2 Connecting to what matters to you in the dynamic
A frequent mistake is to say “I don’t want X in this relationship anymore!” without knowing what it is that you really want. So, when you’re in the middle of the dynamic, you don’t know how to respond other than perhaps maybe saying what you don’t want.
Saying what you don’t want could be a starting point, but where do you go from there without knowing what you do want in the relationship?
Maybe you really need privacy. Perhaps respect is calling your attention. Or it may be that you wish for space so that there can be harmony. It might be that you want to have fun with your family or friends without having to compete with others.
3 Having clear and doable intentions and communication strategies
Once you know what you want in the relationship, you need to have tools to direct the energy of the relationship towards your desired course.
If your intention is to have privacy, then you might want to plan topics you are willing to talk about. If you offer topics, there may be no room for personal questions. If you want space from someone, for example, make it a point to greet the person and move on to connect to others with whom you feel more comfortable.
If you want harmony, you might make the commitment to yourself that you will stay off a hot topic with that uncle and when he engages you, you need to have something ready at the tip of your tongue that steers the conversation in the direction of a non-confrontational topic.
When you know the habits, you tap into your values and have a clear course of communicative action in alignment with your values, you are on your way to shift a dynamic. The more you practice this, the less effort it will take and the more you feel into your capacity to navigate old family dynamics that do not serve any of its participants.
May you show up this holiday season with great awareness, choice and courage. May you communicate in alignment with the peaceful and harmonious spirit of the holidays.
And lastly, I’d love to hear from you about the dynamic you will be putting your attention on during this holiday season. Share it in the comments.