by Grace Edmunds
Holiday season is a wonderful time of year to connect with family that you may have not seen in a long time. Perhaps you are energized around this time, or maybe you dread it. Whatever the case, there tends to be an increase in likelihood of drama around the holidays that you can do your best to avoid. Engaging with family members reminds us of the diversity of personalities (and opinions!) that make up our world. Remaining open and curious will help you to thrive at your next family gathering instead of just survive. Follow these few tips to use your reunion as an opportunity for personal growth!
Your family probably knows you in ways that your friends would never be able to. Having witnessed the arc of your life, they have a unique view on your own journey of change. Ideally, they see you in your current evolution and fully accept it. In reality, they may remember you as a younger, less evolved version of yourself and assume you’re still the same. It can be a tricky task to reintroduce yourself in each new iteration of who you are. Bringing a dose of empathy to this process will help to accelerate your own growth. Empathy can also be our ally when we are discussing politics, social justice, or any other triggering topics. Topics like these can build pressure inside us to ‘teach a lesson’ which doesn’t allow us to fully listen to the other person. Instead, take a moment to listen rather than assume and you will stay connected, present, and you may even expand your own perspective.
Sharing his wisdom on the topic of empathetic listening is Rob Alvarado, Communications Expert and CEO of UrbanADLab, a digital marketing agency based in Fairfield CT. Practicing the power of empathy has allowed him to feel more positive and thrive at his own family gathering.
“Listen to everything they have to say (or want to get off their chest) before responding. It allows me to fully understand how that individual is feeling or what they’re up to lately. It also shows them I really care to listen what they have to say, allowing for a better conversation to develop, and hopefully a better appreciation of my POV on a subject if it’s different from their own.
Another trait of my conversation is to be a bit self-deprecating in my response to something the other person has voiced having difficulty with. Someone may share feelings of inadequacy raising a child or another may be struggling through their college studies. At times the tone will tell me they are looking for guidance, or an ear for the whining. But rather than offer immediate guidance, I offer empathy laced with a bit of self-deprecating humor first. There’s no need to rush right in, and sound like an authority on the subject, while you make the other person feel inferior, and try to make yourself appear as a know-it-all.
I never ask, “How’s work?”, since I feel it’s too imposing of a question for some, especially if they’re not feeling confident about their work situation. If I know the person well, and we’ve had a conversation about a particular aspect about their life such as: a sport they play, a child their proud of, or a recent wedding – then I’ll open the questioning with what I feel they were most proud of since it will give them confidence to converse and make them understand that I do care, since I do listen.
We take these three points for granted when they’re family members. Mouthing off without thought since we feel secure in the thought of family ties. By this I mean, we feel confident, no matter what we say, that cousin or aunt will still be there for us, since they’re tied by blood.
But, it’s exactly that type of relationship that needs to be nurtured even more carefully. Since many times we’re geographically separate and following up with a face-to-face isn’t always possible. Seizing the moment to be a great listener is one of the keys to “positive vibes.” How wonderful is this opportunity we call ‘the holidays.’”
Exercise Your Compassion
Lend a helping hand. It is not only beneficial for the one who recieves the help, but there are proven benefits to your own wellbeing. This is a wonderful time to ask how you can support those you care about. Lending a hand with meal prep or watching someone’s child may seem small to you but those little moments can be precious and meaningful. Beyond extending kindness to your family, consider helping those who won’t be spending the holidays surrounded by relatives. Donate a meal to a local homeless shelter, or volunteer with your loved ones at a hospice. Activities like these not only connect you more to each other but they fill your heart with joy. This may not be the first thing on someone’s mind, but if you step in and take action, you will encourage others to live with more generosity and compassion.
Stay Open to Learning
Closing ourselves off from others hinders our ability to expand and grow. Dedicate yourself to your own personal inner-expansion by imagining each of your family members as your teachers. They may teach you something interesting you didn’t know about themselves or the world. More importantly, they are our teachers to learn more about ourselves. Notice when you are triggered by your family or when you feel upset. Identify what set you off and what your reaction to it was. Practicing awareness in this way strengthens your ability to respond to life in more caring and wise ways. In this way, your family can be your greatest teacher.
Apply these practices and concepts and you will thrive at your next family gathering. Bring empathy, compassion, and an openness to learn and you will be surprised the ways you grow.
Share an Affirmation with the Till Community that will help you stay grounded during your next family gathering!