The first of a tightly knit string of holidays is almost here…one week for those of us who are celebrating Thanksgiving! Are you ready to be around people you find challenging? You know, the ones who say things and suddenly you no longer feel very good about yourself. Perhaps drama trails around them like Pigpen’s dirt cloud or maybe you will be around an active alcoholic. For those of you who happen to posses and actively display dysfunctional characteristics, I am not slinging shame your way. Reality is reality and often our unhealthy behavior profoundly affects those around us. If you are the offender here, take a deep breath and own that your unhealthy behavior is dysfunctional and negatively affects the people around you. This may be the perfect time to get help: join a recovery group and get into therapy. As long as you are breathing you have the potential to change.
For those who are the receivers of dysfunctional behavior, remember that you are never very far from hurting others. As long as we are breathing, we are capable of hurting people around us. This awareness generally aids us with the next valuable action to help us deal with dysfunction: seeking to understand. Understanding where someone might be coming from, what he might be thinking or feeling, helps us develop compassion for him.
Understanding and its closely linked friend, compassion can dramatically change any dysfunctional system, at the very least for you. As you put on understanding and compassion, you will notice you are not so negatively affected by the dysfunction. You are more easily able to feel the effects of the dysfunctional barbs, recognize them as a product of the other person’s pain, process the feeling and realize, “This is not about me.” Once you have metabolized your own reaction, you can then shift your focus onto understanding this person. “Wow, that is really interesting Aunt Sally that you are so emphatic about me getting married. Are you afraid I’ll be depressed and alone if I’m not married?” You can actually have a dialogue with Aunt Sally rather than become withdrawn and shut down by her comment.
Engaging with another person from a place of understanding and compassion requires you to avoid being on the defensive. If this is too big of a step right now, that’s ok. If recognizing and understanding the barb coming from the other person is about his own issues is as far as you are ready to go at this point in your own healing process, that in itself is an accomplishment. Celebrate that you are not allowing another person’s dysfunction to sideline you from enjoying the holiday gathering.
Here’s the link to last week’s post: Dreading the Holidays?