Is family sometimes... a thorn in your side?
Improve your thorny relationships over the holidays.
It’s a tale as old as time that the holidays have a way of drawing people back into unavoidable, annual interactions that are sure to drive us mad! Many of these interactions are in the context of family relationships. The growing level of socio-political polarization in society isn’t helping.
Would you take a challenge from a well-meaning therapist to consider your power and, dare I say it, responsibility (yikes), to do some difficult but simple work to improve your relationships this year? Even if it’s just a little improvement - that would be nice, yes? Would it help if I told you what I’m going to recommend is almost guaranteed to work?
Ok, no more playing around: here it is. BE CURIOUS! The curiosity I’m recommending is emotionally neutral and is often described as a “not-knowing” position made up of mostly open questions. Being curious in this manner means you’re under no pressure to agree with anyone, but you’re not out to attack them either. No fight, no flight. Neutral curiosity can accomplish two incredible things in your relationships.
Firstly, it allows you a way to avoid the terrible choices that present themselves in uneasy relationships. The first bad choice is “go-along-to-get along” where you smile and nod while the true inner self is throwing an absolute tantrum and wants to run through the wall like the Kool-Aid Man. The second bad choice is to lose your cool and contribute to irrational conflict. Clinically speaking, both of these choices come from a reactive and broadly irrational place and are likely to lead to greater amounts of depression and anxiety.
Secondly, curiosity actually improves relationships. It gives the people you’re dealing with a chance - and even a challenge - to define themselves, to think about their thinking, and mature. As long as you’re not secretly trying to “own” your cousin and their insane politics, your curious presence will almost certainly improve that relationship without you having to nod in agreement once.
It might make you nauseated to consider the effort this would take and how little you may feel these relationships deserve your effort. My counter argument is that being curious and neutral is better than being reactive, anxious, and experiencing another year of holiday emotional hangover. In the end, anxious fight/flight reactivity in your thorny relationships will work you over far worse than an increased effort to be neutral and curious. Have fun with it! Make this holiday season different! You can do it!
- Author Michael King is a Licensed Family and Marriage Therapist at Crimson Care Counseling.
Michael's office hours to schedule a session are Monday - Friday 8am-5pm.
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