Imagine your family is oblivious to your feelings and needs, but still demands your loyalty, presence and engagement with family events. The “Lady Edith” dilemma. This is also Holly’s (whom you’ll meet in a minute) predicament.
Is there anything either of them can do to improve this situation?
Maybe this isn’t your problem, but perhaps you have other relationships which leave you feeling bruised, frustrated and yearning to change?
Welcome! This is a place to explore what it means to cultivate great relationships with partners, family, friends, kids, neighbors, work mates. With people you love deeply, and with people you’re tempted to dislike, or even write off.
In January I made the case that step one in creating great relationships is to get to know yourself in a whole new way. In brief:
- Recognize there’s not just one “you”. Notice how different people elicit a different version of you. We have distinct inner Parts. See here.
- Your Parts exist in relationship to one another. Tune into your inner chatter and you’ll hear one Part persuading, critiquing, judging, dismissing, ignoring or protecting another Part. See here.
- This is not random. Your Parts each behave purposefully in one of three ways: to proactively manage your day to day, to exile your deepest vulnerabilities or to dowse your inner pain when it is triggered. See here.
This month I’m exploring how – in the midst of this community of Parts – we can become proactive and choose how we show up.
Meet Holly (with the tough family). Her story is an amalgam of several prior client situations. She’d love to improve her relationship with her family and we meet her now as she anticipates attending a family birthday.
Holly’s one of five kids and the only one not yet popping out the grand-babies for her folks who have morphed from stern, judgmental, distant parents into indulgent and fawning grandparents.
It’s yet another birthday for a niece or nephew, and Holly’s been summoned to attend since, as her mother says every year and for every birthday “How could you miss! Don’t you want to celebrate with your family?”
Holly is already familiar with her variety of Parts who get triggered by these events:
Her inner recluse starts screaming and a feeling of suffocation begins to overwhelm her at the thought of the noise and chaos that happens when 20 people gather to eat sugar and offer too many gifts to a small child;
Her no-nonsense task-master starts trying to plan how to entertain the younger kids so there will be some planned cohesion to the afternoon’s chaos;
Her vulnerable, not-good-enough-because-I’m-not-married Part swoops in and she finds herself alternately sobbing and raging at her parents’ agenda for her in the days leading up to the event;
Her devil-may-care Part makes sure she brings several additional bottles of Prosecco so she can always pour another glass when the going gets too tough;
And her yearning-to-connect Part braces for the disappointment that usually follows when Holly tries to have a meaningful conversation with her favorite sister Sally at family gatherings.
Holly has done some terrific emotional homework.
She’s discovered her ~
Managers – the recluse & her no-nonsense-Parts
Exiles – her vulnerable-not-good-enough-because-I’m-not-married, & yearning-to-connect Parts
Firefighters – her devil-may-care Part
(see this Post if you are not familiar with these terms)
And she knows how these Parts tag-team to keep her functioning at these family events. Her Managers keep her alternately seeming like a one-woman island unto herself, or chivvying everyone like a kindergarten teacher, both of which are acceptable to her family and serve to minimize her need to connect at any meaningful level with them. Alternating aloof with busy has the added advantage of minimizing her exiled emotional pain which is easily triggered by her family’s judgment and distance. And, as soon as the pain is tapped into, it’s “fire-fighters-to-the-rescue” and somehow her glass is constantly re-filled with the highly effective “lets-numb-out-on-booze” response.
But she wants to do this differently. These behaviors only reinforce her family’s dim view of her mental stability and life choices. She wishes she could be with them as she is in other contexts, where she experiences herself as strong, interesting and capable.
Holly knows no one in the family (with the possible exception of Sally) has the desire or ability to change how they all relate, so it’s up to her.
With me, as well as working to understand the variety of ways she shows up and how they can trip her up, Holly is also learning to speak FOR her Parts, not FROM them. This means (with reference to the upcoming birthday party) that rather than act out her feelings of frustration with her family by huffing, sighing, rolling her eyes and snapping at them, she can say (even if only to herself to start with) “You know, Part of me gets frustrated by these high-stress family gatherings, but there’s also a Part of me who’s happy to be invited and wants to continue to try and connect with my siblings.” See here to learn more about this idea.
So – what should Holly do?
Below are 4 options for Holly. You choose ~
_____a. Cross her fingers and just go.
- Pros: no effort needed in prior planning and you never know! The family might be attentive, kind and finally interested in her life; the kids might be calm and the cake tasty.
- Cons: This never happens! Last birthday ended up with her leaving early, drunk, and in tears after screaming at Sally.
_____b. Decline the invitation and avoid the whole thing.
- Pros: She would not get hurt that day.
- Cons: She’d pay for it for years to come in guilt trips from the family.
_____c. Just pick one Part and stick with it. Right now she’s totally blended with the imagined security of her no-nonsense Part. That’s the one!
- Pros: If she could do this, it might work. She’d organize the smaller relatives, stay busy, avoid talking with anyone else, and leave early.
- Cons: Zero buy-in from the other Parts pretty much guarantees that they’ll show up. And then we’re back to option a.
_____d. Practice some pre-emptive self-leadership so she is aware of her inner dynamics and can trust her Self to finesse whatever happens.
- Pros: Knowing she can keep her Parts attended to, Holly is free to enjoy the Party. She can risk having conversations with family members because even if they can’t control how they are with her, she can handle what is going on for her. As she masters her ability to be compassionate and present with her internal community of Parts, she notices she is able to feel acceptance and compassion toward her external community of people.
- Cons: Getting to this stage takes a strong desire, a willingness to be honest, and a level of compassion toward oneself that takes time to cultivate.
OK – if Holly’s goal is to improve her relationships with her family, which of the above scenarios would you pick for her?
Most folks choose options a, b or c and those are good if your goal is to simply cope, or get through something. But improving things takes a different approach.
If Holly is committed to improving her relationships, then it’s up to her to BE someone else, and DO something different, which makes (d) a compelling option.
What’s this pre-emptive self-leadership Holly needs before she can enjoy herself at the party?
Self-leadership describes a state where your best self, or maybe your true self, becomes the wise, loving adult to all your younger inner Parts.
This true Self (which I’ll now refer to as Self) is the you which remains once all the chatter of your inner Parts quiets down.
Self is present when your heart melts into compassion for these young Parts, instead of the usual judgment, criticism, and impatience.
You’ve met this Self before.
It’s the still point at your center when you meditate.
It’s where music and art can take you.
Or the particular beauty of earth ~
Or the vast, unknowable majesty of space ~
Self is the still-point amidst all the hubbub.
Discover how to connect to your Self, and learn how to bring this Self into a loving relationship with your Parts. This is the key to that pre-emptive Self-Leadership Holly will need (we all need) if we are to connect deeply with others. And it begins when we connect with our Self.
FIRST TIME HERE?
This is the sixth article in a year-long series about the “12-most-important-relationship-skills-no-one-ever-taught-me-in-school-but-I-sure-wish-they-did.”
Click the box for the full list → → →
If you are interested in reading this blog in sequence, here are links to previous articles, with #1 being the first and #5 the article before this.
- My Top 12 Relationship Skills
- Part of Me Wants . . .
- Little Miss Sunshine
- The Purpose Driven Life
- Report The News – Don’t Act it Out
Join me for the whole series. You can sign up at the top of this page, on the right.