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Okay, so you’re feeling pretty good. Practicing self-love and taking care of your needs, and focusing on being radically kind to those you meet. Working on giving your attention to the things you love, living mindfully, and nurturing your highest expression of love and creativity. You find yourself nodding, “Yeah, I think I've got this.”
And then it’s time to go to that extended family gathering. Oh boy… Suddenly you feel like a powerless five-year-old, or an insecure adolescent.
My father-in-law loved to argue, debate, and generally rile people up. He’s been quoted as saying “Peace on Earth, but not in my family.” Umm…okay. My own father loves to tease people and poke fun at them. I've learned over the years that he does it to show affection in his own gruff way. I didn't understand that as a young, sensitive child, though, and it felt like he was being mean to me.
Family interactions can be the biggest challenge to your practice of kindness. Your family of origin knows just how to push your buttons, and they often do. Even those of us who feel fairly centered much of the time aren't safe from the effects of the dreaded “family dynamics.”
Is there someone in your family with whom you just can’t seem to see eye-to-eye? Is there a family member who can reduce you to feeling angry, unworthy, or ashamed with just one sentence? Even if you know that they don’t do it to be hurtful?
The complex web of relationships within families is built up over many years. We start out living in close proximity with our parents, siblings, and perhaps others, and all of our collective issues get projected outward and mirrored back, over and over. When we were growing up, it was relatively rare to admit to our own shortcomings. It was all about blame and trying to control others’ behavior. Even when you've done a lot of inner work, recurring patterns and memories can be easily triggered when you return to those old family dynamics.
In order to keep your center and not revert to your old reactions - whether that means shouting, crying, or giving them the silent treatment - you can deliberately change your focus. Examine your expectations for the interaction. If your challenging family member acts like they usually do, well then, so what? Can you choose to be yourself anyway - the self you are now, in the present - in the face of their bad behavior? Can you give love even when you might not think they deserve it? Can you forgive? How about seeing through their unpleasant behavior to their own suffering and neediness?
“Treat everyone with politeness, even those who are rude to you - not because they are nice, but because you are.” - author unknown
By choosing to relate to this family member in the present moment, the way you are now, you can change your own response, and that will shift the energy. Being aware of your own old patterns, you can decide not to buy into those worn out stories. This gives you the freedom to see, and perhaps even enjoy, the things you do value about your loved one. But don’t do it for the hope of some reward, like getting them to finally see what a jerk they were being. Do it because you value kindness and compassion. Do it because they are human, like you, like all of us. Do your best not to take their behavior personally.
One technique that helps is to interact with a difficult family member while focusing on and recognizing their higher self. All of us are connected to a non-physical entity, a part of the divine whole that the cosmos is made of. We come here to Earth to learn new things, yet some part of us is still connected. When you can step back and see your family member in that divine light, you’ll catch a glimpse of who they really are.
My father-in-law used his tenacious ability to debate in his later-life career as a successful environmental activist. My Dad has a great sense of humor, has taken care of older people in the community all his life, and loves animals. Look to the good things about your family members. Be grateful for their presence in your life and the lessons you've learned from them. A caveat - if you’re dealing with truly abusive people, the kindest thing to do may be to not spend any time with them at all. Seek the least harmful path for all concerned.
Challenging family dynamics can show up in your immediate family, too. Being unconditionally kind in immediate family living situations is an ongoing lesson. Who is able to push our buttons even more than our parents? Our kids, of course. Partners? Yep, them too.
In the family you've chosen to create as an adult, you have more leeway in how people treat one another. You are a role model for the members of your household. Of course, you’re only human, as are they. Everyone makes mistakes. If you’re a parent, it’s confession time. Have you ever yelled at your kid? Even if you don’t believe in yelling? I sure have. Did I apologize afterward? You bet.
Modeling healthy family dynamics means working on your own issues, and being honest and open about your failings. The best way to avoid the issues that complicate your family of origin is to be conscious about your own behavior. By choosing kindness, you’re prioritizing love over being right, in a way that might not have been possible for the previous generation.
Kindness doesn't mean endless sacrifices, though. You don’t need to be a martyr in order to live in a harmonious home. One big example of a challenge for families is the everyday work of the household. I've found numerous lessons in kindness wrapped up in my attitudes about preparing food and doing dishes. Cleaning up after others without resentment is a wonderful spiritual practice. I do the dishes as an act of service, a kindness to my loved ones. When I’m busy or not feeling up to it, I ask for help.
There are as many ways to express kindness in family situations as there are, well, families. Kindness is a spiritual practice, and it’s not just something you do when you’re feeling good and on your game. Practice it with your immediate family, and then bring it with you to the next extended family reunion. The more you embody kindness, the better you’ll feel, no matter who you’re hanging out with.
|Nikki Starcat Shields is a published author, Mom, Reiki healer, and licensed priestess. She blogs at Starcat's Corner and shares her callings at Feline Dreamers. Get your copy of her book "Cultivating Self-Love: Your Path to Wholeness" on Amazon.|