Matt James Ph.D.

Focus on Forgiveness

Home for the Holidays: Your Survival Guide

Four easy strategies to help you survive holiday family time

Posted Nov 17, 2014


Stressed man taking a break by his luggage
"The most loving parents and relatives commit murder with smiles on their faces. They force us to destroy the person we really are: a subtle kind of murder."

Stressed man taking a break by his luggage

Jim Morrison

Some of you may have parents and family who have supported you 100% throughout your entire evolution.

They smiled when you dyed your hair purple in 8th grade, applauded when you dropped out of college to hitchhike through India, yelled “Mazel tov!” when you announced your engagement to the lover who was 30 years older than you, and were the first in line to buy shares in the eco-friendly condominium community you developed in the Florida Everglades.

If that’s your family, this article isn’t for you.

However, most of us have families who, though well-meaning and loving, consciously or unconsciously tried to hold us back from becoming the person we needed to be. They might have been subtle or blatant. They might have shamed us, badgered us, withheld funds or love—all in an attempt to shape us into who they thought we should be

And maybe you chose to live half-way across the country from them so you could finally spread your wings. But now, you’re heading home for the holidays. You’ll be breaking bread at Thanksgiving or lighting the menorah for Hanukkah or opening presents under the Christmas tree with these same folks.

Not the top item on your bucket list, right?

Yet on the flip side, these people do love you (in their way) and you do love them (in your way). So how can you survive or even, dare I say it, enjoy this time together? Here are a few tips:

#1 Pre-pave with Forgiveness

Those of you who follow my posts know that I am big on forgiveness. In my mind, it’s the key to living a life that is full and rich and free! So, knowing you’ll be seeing some folks that have been difficult for you, prepare yourself. Rather than focusing on how irksome they still might be and how you can “defend”, spend some time using whatever forgiveness process works best for you.

The ho’opono’pono process I teach from Huna is incredibly powerful. It’s a mutual process of forgiving and asking for forgiveness and can be done in the privacy of your own head. Ho’opono’pono gives you the freedom you to start fresh with the people you forgive. (For more about this process: click here.)

#2 Tell a New Story

In Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP), we call this “re-framing.” It basically means to take a situation and experience it from a totally different perspective. NLP has many processes to do this. But try this simple one:

Think of an incident from your past with one of your difficult relatives that still irks or upsets you. Now, image that same incident, but put your relative in a clown costume. Give them a big red nose and floppy shoes. See them waddling around, flapping their arms as they do whatever they did back then. Give them a squeaky voice as they speak to you and add silly sound effects. Make this image of them as bright, colorful and big as you can.

Unless you’re terrified of clowns! If you’re terrified of clowns, you can let go of that fear using NLP techniques that I teach in my Master Practitioners training. For now, imagine that relative in a duck costume. See your relative waddling about making silly duck noises.  

Trust me: If you spend some time playing with your new, ridiculous version of the hurtful incident, the charge you feel will start to disappear. And you may even have some new insights into what was really going on at that time.

#3 Don’t Take It Personally

Don Miguel Ruiz talks about this in his Four Agreements and it’s one of the basics of NLP. Everyone interprets life through their own filters and their own assumptions. What another person sees in you has more to do with who they are than who you are. When Uncle Jasper insists that you’re a fool for trying to make it as a film writer and that you should “get a real job,” he’s talking about his own fears and limitations, not yours.

Melody Beatties put it well when she wrote: “Feel what you feel, know what you know, and set your relatives free to do the same.” When you really start to understand this, rather than feeling insulted by what Uncle Jasper has to say, you might instead feel curious and may even be able to enter into an interesting conversation about why he feels the way he does.

#4 Bring Yourself to the Party

Have you ever noticed that you can revert to who you were as a child when you return to the friends and family of your childhood? We all learned to play “our part” in the family dynamic as children. We were “the nice one,” “the big brother,” “the one who comforted Mom.” Whatever role we took on, we got really good at it! Like riding a bike, our ability to play that part is still available and, when we go back home, we can slip into those old roles automatically.

As adults, we have grown and changed, hopefully become more of who we really are. Prepare yourself to enter your old family environment by reminding yourself of who you have become. Make two columns on a sheet of paper, one titled “Who I Was” and the other titled “Who I Have Become.” Jot down the different characteristics of each.

Now take it a step further by personifying those characteristics. For example, if you were “timid,” what posture reflects that quality?  And now that you are “self-assured,” feel how that posture is different. Do you speak differently? Have different eye contact? Note your “befores” and “afters” so you can catch yourself when you slip into your old roles.

Just like giving an important presentation or getting ready for a big date, the key is in the preparation, not for the worst outcome of your family holiday gatherings, but the best possible outcome!

Until next time. . .

Mahalo!

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Matthew B. James, MA, Ph.D., is President of The Empowerment Partnership, where students learn Neuro Linguistic Programming (NLP), Huna and Hypnosis. To learn more about NLP and MER check out our new Integrative NLP Practitioner Certification® Training