Sometimes we only focus on the negative things right in front of us and that becomes all we see.
It makes sense, if there’s a fire, it’s for sure going to have your full attention. Your main thought will be “WE HAVE TO PUT THIS FIRE OUT” or “RUN FOR YOUR LIVES THERE’S A FIRE”. With family, it can be both. You’re either fighting or running.
Once the fire is out though, we can have a tendency of continuing to only think about the fire. It’s not surprising, the fire probably was a little traumatizing. You’re probably going to have to process the experience – there really was a fire and you may have gotten burned.
Then there has to be a shift from thinking about the fire.
The last thing you want is to give that fire the attention it doesn’t deserve. It may have been a fire, but a bush fire is nowhere near a forest fire.
It can get that way though right? When you’re up close, that can be all you see. It could very well look like a forest fire since that is the only thing filling your vision.
Once you step back though, you realize that it really wasn’t that big of a deal. What you thought was a lot bigger, really was just a small fire.
The same can be said of family interactions.
It’s no secret that the holidays are here (sorry if I spilled the beans!). With sweet traditions, yummy food and long awaited time with loved ones also comes this nice little thing I like to call “Family Drama”. Maybe you’ve heard of it?
It’s no wonder it happens. Shared history can also mean shared problems that have not been dealt with. Being around loved ones means seeing their best AND worst.
There’s just something about knowing that people are never going to leave that brings out the worst in us. It makes sense, all other times we have to be on our best behavior because it would be inappropriate to share our problem areas with strangers. You come home and it’s your safe haven. You can let everything out with the people who know your heart and have committed to walk with you through the thick and thin. This is the place where problems are supposed to come out, because our family is the place where we get refined, challenged and nurtured to grow.
Only, that’s not always the case is it? Sometimes your heart isn’t heard or known because it gets lost in the other person’s own insecurities, issues and misperceptions. A simple phrase can get twisted into a number of things in someone’s mind all in a matter of seconds. A simple question suddenly turns into you are judging that person. Then you have hurt feelings, which ripples into a fight, which ripples into being outwardly grumpy, which ripples into hurt people hurting more people and then you have an awful day had when it’s all said and done.
There has to be a better way. This can’t be the end. How can we overcome family dynamics that repeatedly happen? Those interactions we dread, the feelings of just not even wanting to go home because you’ll have to face it?
I believe the answer lies with Jesus and healthy boundaries.
There’s more to healthy boundaries than just the kind that say, “I can’t be around you because you’re toxic.” More of us need to learn the skill of healthy emotional boundaries when it comes to relating to others.
Healthy emotional boundaries are so necessary for everyone involved. The problem is, not many of us are very good at it (speaking from experience here).
I used to think that most of what people said and did had to do with me.
People getting angry and leaving the room meant they were angry at me and couldn’t stand being around me one more minute. I’m asked a question and my assumption is that there is an underlying judgement already made about my actions and it’s disapproval.
“Why are you doing that?” Is interpreted as “What I think you’re doing is stupid, why are you doing it that way?” This unfortunately comes from repeated experiences where someone really does question your actions over and over again because they really do disapprove (probably because they themselves wouldn’t do it that way). The end result is us getting defensive of our actions which puts the other person in the offensive and then you get a lovely little argument and sometimes silent hurt feelings that are never shared with the other person until it blows up later after stuffing more and more hurt feelings.
Sounds exhausting right? Too often this is our reality.
The worst of it is, you connect them disapproving or judging the action, with disapproval or judgement of you. A lot of times we don’t know how to separate the action from the person. You are not what you do, but we, in the moment of the fire, can forget that there’s a problem at hand and it doesn’t mean it’s us.
The beautiful thing is, there is a way out. It doesn’t have to be this way. You really can learn new dynamics and I am living proof.
It starts with Jesus.
He enters the room and fills us with his love. It then takes continual walking with Jesus for this love to change us. Eventually, we start realizing he truly does mean what he says. We really are loved without conditions or prerequisites. Arguments and hard situations turn into opportunities for growth. His truth fills our minds and hearts and change us. His spirit gives us the power and awareness to enact real change.
Where it gets tricky is when we don’t actually deal with our problems. We say, “have your way God.” Then we don’t let him actually refine us. We encounter a hard situation and instead of seeing it for what it is, a circumstance allowed in our lives to bring out the problem area so we can deal with it and heal from it, we do everything we can to not deal with it.
Instead of having necessary conflict, we do our best to ignore that there’s a problem. We shove it under the rug because “I don’t want to cause waves,” or “I don’t want to fight,” or “I don’t want to ruin the whole weekend,” or “I don’t want to be attacked.” There’s always some reason we don’t want to face the issue at hand. It only results in enlarging the problems and we end up hurting everyone so much more in the long run.
The key to healthy conflict is having healthy emotional boundaries.
What does that mean?
Not everything is about you. What the other person is saying, thinking, feeling or doing doesn’t have to do with you. It has everything to do with their own internal experience.
They may have had a bad day and that’s why they’re grumpy. It doesn’t excuse them from treating you badly, but it does shed some light on the situation – not everyone is doing things to hurt you.
It’s taking things at face value. A question can really just be that, a question. Someone could literally just be curious because they want to know why you’re doing something. Because they are simply curious. It doesn’t mean there is disapproval lurking around every corner. Rejection isn’t uppermost on their mind.
I had such a hard time with this in my early twenties (am I actually old enough now to say early twenties?!). My best friend would ask me questions and my immediate response was to get defensive. It took years of repeated consistency of her telling me she literally was just asking a question and not being critical for it to finally hit home.
The key is you have to talk about it. You have to voice what you’re wanting. You can’t expect people to read your mind. You can’t put unhealthy expectations on the people in your life to fulfill your every need. You will be disappointed every. single. time.
It’s easy for a situation to look like the end of the world. We can get worked up the point of wanting to leave and never come back. The bush fire looks like a forest fire.
You’re going to have heated moments with loved ones. It’s not the end though. The relationship isn’t ending. The world isn’t ending. Take a break, breathe, think, pray. It isn’t always as bad as it seems. Get some perspective and come back to it calmer and wiser.
It’s not your job to fix everything. It’s not your job to fix the relationships of your family members. All you can do is take care of your own relationships.
Healthy boundaries looks like not taking on the responsibility of others. It’s your parents’ job to go talk to their spouse and work out the issue, not yours. It’s God’s job to fix all the issues, not yours.
Healthy boundaries looks like taking personal responsibility. All you can control is you. If you have a need, you have to voice it. You can’t expect everyone to know that you have a need – we aren’t God, we don’t know what you’re thinking or feeling unless you tell us.
Healthy boundaries looks like taking people at face value. If they say they don’t need help, you take them at their word. You treat them as a competent adult who can voice if they need help and understand it’s not your job to read their mind.
The practice of trying to read minds is dangerous and unhealthy. You will fail repeatedly. You will end up reading into everything. You will end up thinking everything someone says or does is about you.
You are loved, you are valued, you are accepted, you are wanted. Your needs matter. You matter. You are special. These things do not change. What anyone says or does or fails to say or do, has no bearing on your identity and worth.
When you stop trying to find your security and worth in other people and things, you start finding it in God. You become unmovable by the waves that pop up in your life because your foundation isn’t made on others’ opinions of you but is made on the foundation of God’s opinion of you. It’s made on his powerful and steady love that never changes.
There’s a whole world of freedom awaiting you and it starts with leaning on Jesus and not running away from the hard stuff. It looks like some hard moments of confronting issues and actually talking about things. It looks like some failures on your end in the midst of successes. It looks like an occasional case of being misunderstood. It looks like tons of prayer since this will be all God.
All the while Jesus is whispering in your ear with a huge smile on his face, “You got this beloved. I’m going to be with you and helping you the whole time. Not by might, nor by power, but by my spirit.”
“For I consider [from the standpoint of faith] that the sufferings of the present life are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is about to be revealed to us and in us!”
- ROMANS 8:18 AMP
Come on friend, healthy is waiting for us!