How to keep your cool with your family at Christmas
Think you're all grown up? Got the mortgage, bank account, responsibilities: you're a fully paid up member of the adult race and the days of childhood are far behind you. Then Christmas happen's and BOOM! I remember hearing author Elizabeth Gilbert say family can push your buttons more than anyone else... because they installed them!
Inside every adult is an inner child. In my work as a practitioner exploring childhood trauma, I have discovered just how many of our little and sometimes big issues as adults can be traced back to our childhoods.
Of course this is nothing new - the theory was discovered in psychology a long time ago. It's very easy to want to blame our parents for the experiences we have as adults, but most of the time they were just doing the best job they could. You can't control what happens in your childhood - you are a child after all - but as an adult you can choose the relationship you have with your parents.
One of the problems I see with clients is that people are still waiting for their parents to love them in the way they wanted to be loved as a child. They need to know that Mum and Dad are proud of them. They may look for parental approval and still do things to get attention. Parental criticism is always going to be hurtful, even though as an adult is shouldn't matter if your Mum thinks you look fat in that dress.
If you didn't get that kind of supportive love in childhood, then you are even less likely to get it as an adult. It can be heart breaking watching your children be more loved than you were by their now Nanny and Grandpa, in a way you yourself wanted to be loved by Mum and Dad. But remember, you may well be the best thing your parents ever did with their lives. You're not just a son or daughter, you're also a project that has brought untold meaning and purpose to their lives. No wonder they keep trying to perfect you, or still criticise their own creation!
So how do we get out of the loop of wanting approval from ageing parents that makes us, even as adults, act like a child? Especially at Christmas. It's quite simple really - give your parents the love that you want to receive.
Believe it or not your parents also need your approval. Now I get that all families are different so this isn't going to stand for everyone, but when I have given this advice to clients they have seen massive changes in their relationships. In fact, several of them actually started to get the kind of love they had always been looking for.
Now I never dish out advice without having tried it on myself first. My own mother never had any confidence. So she didn't really believe that anything she could produce (i.e me) would ever amount to much. As I started to do great things in life, the more this challenged a belief my mother had about herself. The belief that she couldn't create anything of value kept her safe. It meant she didn't have to create anything or risk the pain of it or her being rejected. The more I did well, the more she questioned it. The more she did that, the more I tried to win her round... you can see where this is going. Until I stopped making it about me, and I made everything about her. I confessed that I did things to win her approval. I sent her cards with lists of all the great things she did when I was a child like teaching me how to wash blackberries so the bugs floated to the top and I didn't eat them! As her confidence grew, so did her pride in me. Our relationship is now better than it has ever been.
We live in self absorbed times, often living away from our families and the people we grew up with. The same people who would normally keep our egos in check with a salutary story or tale from childhood. But even if we live a long way from our parents, It is important to feel as connected as we can to our families as adults. Making them accountable for the actions of the past never really heals anything. We rewrite our history over time - even if we don't like to believe we do. Reality is just a version of events and healing comes when we allow everyone else to have their version of events but always put love as the prime objective. You never know when the moment is gone for good!