- Ricka Robb Kohnstamm
How will you courageously face family conflict head on and emerge more connected?
Some families might roll along over the years, unscathed by differences in politics, ideologies, divorce, loss, financial issues, addictions, trauma or you name it. Granted, those families could exist.
But in my experience, almost all of us, if we are living full lives, bump up against really messy family dynamics. The siblings that aren't speaking, the mother and daughter who circle each other from a safe distance, the brother who always finds himself standing in the uncomfortable middle, the parents who throw up their hands and say "well, just don't come to the holiday gathering if you're going to be that way."
One way to deal with it is to move away, stay away, disengage, ignore.
"Who needs them anyway? They are jerks."
"Their explosive anger is ridiculous. They need to get over it. Until then, see ya..."
"I'll just move away. If I live on the other side of the country, I won't have to worry about seeing them."
But that doesn't solve anything. Deeply buried underneath the bluster and anger and frustration is a profound sadness, a longing for connection; a desire to find the path through to the other side.
How might you courageously face family conflict head on and emerge more connected?
Here are three tools to pull up from your toolbox...
Commit to showing up. Sounds simple, but those who do this courageous work know it is anything but. Show up for yourself first by committing to self care... get enough sleep to bolster your ability to think clearly, meditate to regulate your spinning thoughts, eat healthy foods to nourish your brain/body/soul, move your body - preferably in nature. Then, when you are ready, commit to showing up for those you are in conflict with.
"I don't know if we will find our way through, but I am committed to trying. You matter to me."
"I remember that when we were little, we used to like each other a lot. I want to find some of that in our relationship again. I am committed to trying."
"Our family was so messed up when we were children; maybe we can find new ways to relate now that we are adults. It will take hard work, but I care about us as a family and it would feel really healthy to be in good relationship with you."
"I want to be able to exhale and not always be on guard. I am committed to doing the work with you."
Commit to facing over coping. We can cope. Or we can face. Commit to facing.
Coping: "I'll be out of town for the holidays, maybe next year."
Facing: "I would love to be part of the family celebration, but we will need to have an honest conversation first so that we can talk about what's been going on."
Coping: "If my sister wasn't such a jerk, our children could celebrate birthdays together. I hate her."
Facing: "My sister and I see the world very differently. I am curious about what is important to her now and what she might like going forward. She is scary, but underneath it all, she is still my sister and that matters to me."
Coping: "Once our parents are gone, I will never have to see him or his children again. Good riddance."
Facing: "Once our parents are gone, there will be fewer reasons for us to get together and that will make it more difficult to find common ground. I would like to work on our relationship now, while our parents are still alive, and then we might be able to have a lifeline to each other and our larger family when our parents are gone."
Walk with someone you trust. Messy families are normal. Instead of walking alone into the conflict wilderness, consider walking the family conflict path with me as an experienced family mediator/guide, or someone else you trust. I create and guide safe conflict spaces so that family members show up as their responsive best selves, soften into deeper understanding, and choose to move forward together.
Feel the connection. It feels hopeful to be seen and heard in relationship with someone we have been in conflict with, someone who actually does matter to us, someone who walks the earth with us as "family". As connections deepen, so can new habits, new ways of showing up, new reasons to show up, and fewer regrets.
And then exhale.
Actions, aligned with values, support optimal health.