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Thinking about Family

Family gatherings to be more specific.

I have a huge family gathering this weekend and some of my further flung relatives have already arrived in town so I’ve been thinking about family a lot.

ThInking what I couldn’t say. It’s been kind of a jumbled mess of ‘so happy to see you’ and ‘good lord stop making me feel so uncomfortable’ (which is, of course not them but actually me) mixed in with an internal monologue that includes some really destructive thoughts about what someone might be judging me for.

Recently, my friend was talking about Jeremy Lin, the basketball player, and something he said about how he was not talking to himself, he was listening to himself. She shared her thoughts about the difference between the stories we tell ourselves and the reality of a situation. How we can either listen to the old stories or talk to ourselves about what is really going on and it made me stop and think about the stories we have from childhood and how, left unchecked, they can wreak havoc. If you think about it, your family has all kinds of stories. The funny memories of the accident, the mistake, the slight inconvenience, or the crazy moment. The sad stories about the loss of the family pet, the family member who moved away and can’t be around much anymore, or the loss of a job. The crushing moments when a member of the family passes away, there is a significant illness, or there is a divorce that splits up part of your family. There are so many other kinds of stories too. As many emotions as there are, there are stories that bring up that emotion.

Here’s the thing though, when everyone gets together those stories get revisited and new situations get explained over and over again as each new person becomes aware, there is an intensity to the stories that you rarely experience in your day-to-day life. To be clear, I do it too so I’m not thinking I’m not part of the problem. I’m fully aware that I expect my questions about details around a specific situation to be answered just like everyone else. So how do you enjoy time with the people you are related to without the emotions engendered by the stories you’re telling/being told becoming overwhelming?

Don’t look at me, because I have no advice. Literally none. I am still wrapped up in trying to figure out how to stop listening to myself and the things I assume to be true because of the emotions those stories bring up and to talk to myself about what’s really going on in the moment instead.

When you stop to think about it, family is often the reminder of all the pesky little things leftover from growing up that still sit deep inside us. Sometimes it’s from trauma or abuse, and sometimes it’s not at that level, but depending on where you were developmentally, things can hurt and stay with you well into adulthood. The comments made by a trusted adult at school, the teasing by one of your peers, the verbal abuse from a bully, the fighting between siblings, etc. all created stories that we believed because at the time they were true. That adult did say something hurtful, that kid in your class was teasing you, that bully did shred your self-confidence, and your sibling really did fight with you. What’s important to remember is that they did, as in they used to, as in, it’s over. As adults, we get to rewrite that story now and tell one we prefer. For example, that adult was wrong, the kids were immature; the bully was probably being bullied, and that was all they knew, and your sibling might have been acting up because of something big like family dynamics or maybe just because they were having a bad day. But the key here is to remember none of those people is you. Maybe that is what makes it harder when it is family though. They might not be you, but in a way, they are. You share the same blood and you have an expectation about how they’ll act and how they’ll treat you. The important part there, though, is to recognize they might be like you but they aren’t you.

Not only that, none of the choices they made are yours. You do not have to take them in as truth, nor do you have to believe what doesn’t feel right to you. So the next time I feel like I’m being pushed into believing the old stories in my head out of habit, instead of listening, I’m going to stop and think about whether it is old stories I’m hearing or myself.

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