Running patterns

Sharon BartleyNeil

This is the latest article from Neil on relationships

When reconnecting with family for the holidays…

Few of us enter with a blank slate, to experience others as they truly are…

Over decades, we’ve built up assumptions about them, and how the day or night will go. In effect, instead of relating to each other…

 

We are relating to stale mental models of each other, running patterns, and fulfilling jaded prophecies.

To break this cycle, there’s an approach I use to help clear my mental slate.

It begins with letting go of all that history. I do my best to drop old stories of who my relatives are, or how they will be, and make an effort to create new ones.

I’m not acting as the son, nephew, brother, or cousin, with any baggage that may come with those roles. I’m acting more as an objective journalist.

I try to experience family members for the first time, as if they were relatives of a friend, and commit to staying open and curious. I try to discover something new about them, or untold stories from their past.

 

And most importantly, if I get stuck in an old story, I instantly look to see if there’s an argument that’s just as valid for an opposite positive thought.

So if I think that someone is “always criticizing me,” I’ll see if it’s also true that they are saying kind things. Or if maybe this is their way of showing love and trying to make sure I succeed. Or if, and this is almost always the case, it’s actually me who’s being critical.

Priming this mindset changes the questions I ask, and how I respond to moments that might normally lead to conflict. Sometimes, those new choices can shift the feedback loop of relationship… and lead to a whole new appreciation of a family member and a surprisingly warm dynamic with them.

One other important aspect of clearing the slate is letting go of any role you tend to take…

With certain relatives, you might be used to assuming a role in the Karpman Triangle (victim, perpetrator, or rescuer) and co-creating drama. Or you may find yourself becoming the judge—silently (or not-so-silently) criticizing everyone’s opinions, behavior, or choice of words…

 

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A more useful approach is not taking any position. When you don’t step into the Karpman Triangle, and refrain from thinking of yourself as less than or better than anyone else there…

You’re just a human in the company of other humans, who happen to share genetic material. They have needs—just like you. They have suffered, and loved and lost—just like you.

What you’re left with is compassion for your shared humanity. With that, you can begin bypassing reactivity, because you’re able to see people for who they really are: Humans with their own wounds, unmet needs, and coping strategies.

For example, if a parent is being overbearing or treating you like a kid—instead of feeling agitated, you might feel understanding. You’re able to recognize their unconscious need for control to feel safe, because a part of their childhood was out of control. And that their intention, no matter how poorly its executed, is actually for you to be safe.

I’ll admit, operating from a blank slate is an ideal that’s sometimes easier said than done. Reactivity may still surface. In that case, there’s still a way to use those triggers to your advantage…

For the latest article from Neil read on here: