Relationships: The Best (and Hardest) Part of the Holidays

Relationships are what make our lives joyful and meaningful. Being surrounded by the people who we love, who love us deeply in return, creates a sense of home. For some of us, these people are our immediate and extended family; for others, it’s our friendships, and the family we choose.

So why are these people whom we love so dearly often the ones who we treat the worst? Or the ones who trigger us the most, particularly around the holidays?

In my last blog post, we talked all about how to truly BE present over the holidays, and all the things that get in our way, the emotional energy that surrounds us this time of year, and how to acknowledge it without being consumed by the feelings we don’t want.

In this article, I want to talk about the role relationships play in our lives, and how we can lean into them as sources of insight into ourselves.

If you think about it, relationships are truly our greatest teachers, our intended and unintended impacts that we have on those we love.

Let’s start with something tangible. Think about a relationship that you would like to be more harmonious, loving, or connected over the holidays.

We all have one. That friend’s spouse, a cousin, or person that you’re dreading seeing over the holidays for the way they make you feel.

Now for the hard question: what is your part in it? Meaning, what are you responsible for in the current landscape of the relationship? This takes a lot of heart and honesty. Perhaps your first thought was, “Nothing! It’s all them.” If that was the case, stay with me here.

Our natural tendency is to go to blame first. “They are the one who ….. (fill in the blank)”. Perhaps those perceptions are enforced by their words/actions/how everyone else agrees with you how unpleasant they are.

As long as we have a relationship with someone (meaning two or more people sharing time, a space, and energy), we have intended and unintended impacts on each other, whether we’re aware of this or not.

The good news is that we have the power to shift a relationship, at any time, anywhere, for any reason, all by how we’re showing up. Awareness is the key. We can’t change what we’re not aware of.

Awareness + New Action = Transformation

It all starts with our BE-ing. Are we approaching this relationship with love? Are we seeing them as a human being who is struggling/hurting/afraid? Or we seeing them as more of an “object”, an obstacle who is making life more difficult?

Our mindset makes all the difference. People can feel our energy towards them. If we’re coming into the conversation saying we’re open to talk, but every fibre of our being is filled with resentment, how might the conversation go?

However, our most difficult relationships are the ones that offer us the most opportunity.

That’s right. Our most difficult relationships are our gifts.

In the personal development circles I follow, there is a lot of conversation around cutting people out of our lives. And, absolutely, sometimes that’s necessary.

I also believe that who we’re be-ing when we do so makes all the difference. Are we making the decision out of a place of peace and release, or a place of reaction and resentment?

How do we know? We start paying attention to our triggers.

A trigger feels like an emotional, internal “pinch”. It’s where we go from a place of conscious and deliberate ability to respond in a natural and creative way to speaking without thinking, and having an emotional reactive response; we often later regret what we have said or done.

Family is a HUGE trigger. Especially around the holidays, when the sense of stress can be turned up high. We also experience triggers at work, with friends, driving, and in line at the grocery store with the person in front of us who has 20 items in the express lane.

To me, triggers can be an indicator that a value has been stepped on, or that there is a need for a boundary. It can also mean that a part of ourselves that we haven’t healed yet, often subconscious and from our past, has been brought to light, and we have the opportunity to heal it.

In his book, The Untethered Soul, Michael Signer describes these triggers as being like proverbial thorns living in us. When we’re triggered, one of the thorns has been moved, causing pain. When we become aware of the thorn and its associated pain, we are given the opportunity, and the choice, to do the work and remove it.

My belief is that this is the ultimate role of relationships in our lives. We can only do so much work on ourselves, and doing so is like doing it in a vacuum. We can only be aware of our thorns to the extent we know them. We need other people in our lives to help us show where they are.

I can’t help but wonder, what would be different heading into the holidays with this mindset instead? Instead of fearing the forced family time and the people we “have” to tolerate, we approach these hard relationships with curiosity and wonder? What might they have to teach us? How might we become better people/friends/partners/leaders by approaching relationships from this place?

Of course we’re human and, even despite our best of intentions, we get “hooked”. Hooked, in this sense, means caught up in the drama. Think of a fish once it’s hooked on the line. It makes a lot of noise, lots of energy is being expended, and, ultimately, its fate is sealed.

Below is a list I’ve found incredibly helpful over the years, and have taught it to clients and friends, and even family.

Notice the trigger. This can happen through noticing something like a flushed face. For others, their chest gets red, or it can feel like a button being pushed. This is the hardest step, as we’re interrupting a long-standing pattern or habit. Notice the trigger without responding. Simply breathe.

Feel the feelings. There is an incredible list of feelings from the Centre for Non-Violent Communication that relates to met and unmet needs. As I play with this more with my clients, I notice that we go to describing the situation, rather that the actual emotions we are feeling. For example we’ll say, “I feel that you are not listening to me and…” rather than going to the emotion which is “I feel angry, resentful, and disappointed”.

Breathe. So often, we leave our bodies in a place of stress and our breath gets shallow or caught in our throat. This triggers a fight, flight, or freeze response even more. More carbon dioxide, less oxygen, more inability for us to stay with the experience.

Notice where the emotion sits in your body. Is it in your heart? Your shoulders? Hips? All this contains vital information. Unexpressed emotions of the past are stored in our bodies. When we acknowledge what’s there after being unconscious for so long, we are given space to heal.

Send the person love. It could be in the form of light, care, deep connection, or sense. It can also be acknowledging that they’re human and perhaps in an unconscious pain cycle themselves. They have flaws and have unintended impacts too.

We do not see the world as it is; we see the world how we are. Our own stories, experiences, beliefs,and truths are colouring how we see the world. Entertain the idea that what you’re seeing may be a small part of what is real.

Leaders are responsible for their world. And, by taking responsibility for our world, we get to choose how we see it, be in it, and influence the quality of relationships we have.

As an aside, I wish you an incredible holiday season rich with love and connection. For those experience that do provide triggers, I hope you witness them, yourself, and the situation with love, curiosity, and peace.

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