Family Vacations, Reunions, and Get Togethers-How to Maintain Your Own Happiness in Chaos

I absolutely love summer or at least the idea of summer. Longer days, warmer nights, barbecues, evening strolls, and afternoons enjoying a book-drinking lemonade on my back deck.

Everything seems to just slow down in summer. People are happier, we move at a different pace because well it’s hot and who wants to hurry when it’s hot outside? It’s as if we are forced to slow down…at least a little bit and enjoy what is happening around us.

During the summer, plans that we started to consider and make arrangements for in the past year are finally coming together. Especially now with COVID restrictions being lifted in many places, we are able to travel to see family and friends that we may not have seen for the past year or two. It’s such an exciting time!

This week marks the first week that my family is able to travel to see family up north. We are driving, and stopped by my husband’s hometown last night to visit and stay with family and will continue our trek up north today.

Our family that hosted us last night cooked us an amazing meal and made us feel so loved, appreciated, and at home. We spent the evening chatting, watching the children play, and catching up. It was comfortable, simple, and filled my heart with such joy and connection.

I awoke in the guest room this morning with a sense of calm and gratitude for the love of family and the richness and depth our family brings to who we are. How the relationships with our family continues to grow, shift, and deepen over the years, even when we aren’t in their presence.

As I was thinking about the family we will see over the course of the next few weeks and our travel plans, I was filled with excitement about seeing everybody. But also a feeling of unease. Because well…family drama!

Every family has their drama. Some drama seems like it is always there and bubbles to the surface at times. And some drama is more current based on what is happening in the lives of the family members and our shared history. Right now my family is in a season of drama.

At the moment, I feel as if I am on the edge of a pool that looks serene, beautiful and welcoming. Yet, once I jump in, the drama is going to surround and engulf me. I’m currently on the nice, safe deck of the pool-looking into the amazing blue water. But, I’m fully aware that once I jump in-the water could shift at any time and my sense of calm, peace, and happiness could be threatened at any moment. Yet, I have the confidence in myself that regardless of the situation around me, I can remain calm, peaceful and happy.

So how do I stay grounded in myself when all of this is going on around me? First I acknowledge that the only person I am responsible for is myself. The only person who I am able to control both their feelings and actions, is myself.

Remembering that I am the only person I am responsible for and have the ability to control is myself-takes some of the pressure off of my wanting to fix things, or to try to “fix” others. To go into an environment-wave my magic wand and make everybody happy. Because it’s simply not possible.

And while the feeling of wanting to fix things for people, to make it better so they don’t hurt or are unhappy is ultimately what I want and hope will happen-I know that there is nothing I can do. So instead of focusing on fixing other people’s problems, my focus shifts inward. And how am I going to deal with my own thoughts, feelings and actions if something is said or done that can trigger me?

So, how do I stay grounded? I use thought work. The foundation of this work is the belief that our thoughts create our reality. It’s what we think about what is happening around us that truly creates our happiness and unhappiness. Our life experience is all created in our minds. Because what we feel and think of what happens in our lives, starts there and then we do the rest.

You might think, but my cousin is truly a mean person. Or my mother is verbally abusive. Or my sister is always treating me like I can never do anything right. And perhaps, this is all true.

The first rule to remember when dealing with family and any long term relationship that is meaningful to you is:

  1. You can’t control anybody but yourself.

No matter how hard you try. You just can’t.

2.What people think about you and how they treat you is a reflection about how they feel about themselves. It has little if anything to do with you.

How people treat us is based on their own filters which is based on their own life experiences. People often choose to focus on the negative (it’s a neurobiological thing) rather than the positive. When they identify something they consider to be negative about you-they focus on it.

In reality what they’re focusing on in you has something to do with unhealed trauma in their own lives that has absolutely nothing to do with you. Or something about themselves that they don’t like or are afraid to embrace and so by seeing it in you, it reminds them that they have unexamined stuff they need to deal with. It’s just something you did or said that triggered them in some way, and there is no way of knowing what it is, unless they tell you.

Which brings me to #3.

3.What other people think about you, is none of your business.

As a recovering people pleaser, this thought was really hard for me to embrace, but it’s so incredibly true. Much less act on. If you spend your precious and limited time trying to make people like you (remember you can’t control others) you are wasting your time and energy. Simply showing up as your whole and amazing self and not worrying about the rest, allows you to be more present, fulfilled, and appreciative of who your real tribe is.

4.When you show up as your best self every day, people enjoy being around you, you are happier and more fulfilled.

It’s freeing to know that the only person you need approval from, is yourself. And you’ll find that when you are focused on doing things that you enjoy and reconnecting with yourself-you are able to show up in family drama in a way that doesn’t take you from your grounded and emotionally stable place. Your are like a sturdy tree in the midst of a storm. Your branches may shake a bit, but you are rooted deep in who you are and you know that regardless of what happens, you will remain constant and stable throughout.

5.Thought work is key because it’s only through thought work that you see the power of your thoughts and how simply changing your thoughts, changes your life.

Give it a try this week. You have nothing to lose and everything to gain.

To get started, whenever you have a feeling in your body that you don’t like, write it down. Then write down the thought you’re having. For example say at a family gathering a close family friends says to me:

“Wow, you have sure landed on your feet! Remarrying with two teen daughters-he must be a complete saint. And now you have a foster son? What are you all bored over at your house?”

Ouch…so much judgement and complete lack of knowledge or respect for me or my daughters are in this sentence. Yet, it’s a sentiment I’ve heard over the past year or so. So how do I respond? Other than getting offended and defensive? Which of course is what I would have done in the days before I knew that I could use thought work and not let these comments sting me or even enter how I see myself or my family.

First I look at the circumstance-what happened. And it needs to be as neutral as possible. Oftentimes we see our circumstances and put our judgements on them which doesn’t help us work through our thoughts and feelings. So I could put:

Circumstance: Family friend was mean and disrespectful.

But that is the value I’m placing on what was said based on how it made me feel. Instead I need a circumstance that is neutral which means there is no value placed on it at all.

Circumstance: Family friend said words.

Now I focus on the thought I have about it and the feeling it gives me. While I may have many thoughts and feelings about what was said-I can only use one per model. So you may find yourself using multiple models when doing thought work and that’s fine. Examples of different models are below

Circumstance: Family friend said words.

Thought: Why would she say that to me?

Feeling: Confusion

OR

Circumstance: Family friend said words.

Thought: Wow, that hurts but she’s right-I’m so lucky

Feeling: Shame

OR

Circumstance: Family friend said words.

Thought: Who does she think she is, saying that to me?

Feeling: Anger

So I’m going to choose just one of these models to use, but ideally I would work through all of them using the following steps. I’ll focus on model #2.

Circumstance: Family friend says words

Thought: Wow that hurts but she’s right-I’m so lucky

Feeling: Shame

I don’t want to feel shame. But what she said touches something in me that I have a reaction to. So, I need to sit with that feeling, examining it and why I’m having the thought I’m having about her being right and myself being lucky. Then I think about how I want to feel. Which is in this case is joy. I want to feel joy that I’ve gotten remarried and that my life is the life I have chosen to create. Not because of luck, but because of doing this work. And I create a new model.

Circumstance: Family friend says words

Thought: I have worked hard to create the life I have.

Feeling: Pride

You’ll notice as I’m working through the model my feeling has changed from joy to pride and that’s perfectly fine. It’s a more positive thought than shame and makes me feel better and that’s all that matters.

The next piece of the model is my action based on changing my thought. Of course, all of this can’t be done in the moment. You will probably go into situations and respond as you normally have, which has continued to get you more of what you currently have.

As you identify your thoughts and feelings using this model-you can start to change your actions and results. You can use this exercise to evaluate things your family or friends have said to you over the years, what your actions have been and the results of those actions, and then change your responses in your mind before you attend your next gathering with them.

So my action based on the above model is to say something like this, “Thanks. I’ve done a lot of work on myself over the past few years which has actually led me to becoming a life coach. I have created an amazing life and we are all doing great.”

The result is that I feel good about my response and I haven’t taken on any of her negativity about my life and all of the assumptions I could make about why she said what she said. I stayed true to myself, remembered that what she was saying really wasn’t about me-it’s her own judgement of me based on her life experiences, and I absolutely don’t want to or need to take that on as my own stuff.

The complete model is below:

Circumstance: Family friend says words

Thought: I have worked hard to create the life I have.

Feeling: Pride

Action: Respond, “”Thanks. I’ve done a lot of work on myself over the past few years which has actually led me to becoming a life coach. I have created an amazing life and we are all doing great. How are you?”

Result: I feel good about my life, I have taken on her thoughts about me, and hopefully we can go on and talk about something else. Or I can move on to another conversation with somebody else, knowing that I was clear in my communication while also being kind and respectful.

Thought work is life changing, as I’ve described here. It really puts the power you have back into your own hands and you are able to focus on the things that truly matter to you in your life. You learn how to change your thoughts by simply using this model.

But like anything in life, even if it’s simple-it can still be challenging to implement. Give it a try a few times. And if you have questions-please reach out to me, I’m happy to answer them and support you in learning how to do this amazing work on your own.

I wish you the best week with your family and close friends!

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