As you might have figured out from following my posts, this is not the area I am most skilled in, at least where my sisters are concerned. This is a huge pain point for me, and it often has me questioning my identity and sanity. I’ve been to psychotherapy (more than once), completed the Curriculum for Living at Landmark Worldwide, and had periods of success that encouraged me to keep trying. But my mother’s death seemed to unearth a lot of unresolved conflict that might never resolve, or at least not in the ways I would like them to. Consequently, this post is as much about freeing relationships as it is about freeing the emotions surrounding them.
First, consider your timing. I am still grieving and mourning. So are my sisters. We’ve all tried various processes to put the past in the past. Some have been ineffective. Some have been helpful, but their effects are still being realized. As I learned last weekend, now is not a good time to acknowledge others’ contributions and request respect. We’re each trying to sort through the narratives about our relationships with our parents, both of whom are now gone, and we’re trying to process all the stories we heard about them at the funeral home. Many were familiar. A few had been forgotten. Some were new and fun. Others were sad. Not much makes sense during these first few months, and I probably made a mistake in asking for any of it to, at this stage.
Second, communicate authentically, even if you fear rejection, or even an attack. This will require preparation, but it will give you confidence and security. Before I went to Louisville for my mother’s funeral, I journaled about several possible scenarios and how I might handle them better than when similar ones occurred in the past. If my brother-in-law tried to physically intimidate me and started yelling hurtful things at me, I was prepared to walk away without engaging. If he was unhappy with that response and followed me, I was prepared to call the police. I also had my two closest friends nearby to keep me from getting baited into an ineffective response. This allowed me to be myself and honor my mother. This was not the expected response, or an accepted one, but it was what I needed to communicate: I am deserving of love and respect. Throughout the weekend, I kept grounding myself in that communication, which required me to do very little more than be me. I spoke comfortably with people who loved my mother, and I listened attentively to the beautiful and fun stories of her life.
Third, practice. I know. You were hoping there was a one-shot deal. There is not. I’ve been working on my relationships with my sisters for years. It has required a lot of failing and humility. Most recently, it required ending communication with one of them, as it became clear no reconciliation was desired, unless I would continue to accept decades of psychological abuse. The physical abuse ended years ago, but through therapy, education, and training, I saw that the psychological abuse would continue to increase. I am continuing to Stay on Parr: Planning, Acting, Revising, and Repeating the process, until we can create peace. But for now, I am focusing my practice on relationships with people who want to love me and who see the best parts of me, even when I can’t see them.
In the meantime, I’m using some of the techniques I’ve coached my clients to use to free emotions that could blow up the golden bridge that would allow reconciliation with loved ones, when the time and circumstances are right:
- Private tantrums. I’m removed from my family, so I can easily find spaces where my rants can’t be heard. I try to never let them infiltrate conversations with unaffected parties.
- Walks. Especially now that the weather is nicer in New York City, I take walks and will be going on hikes. I remind myself to breathe deeply as I walk, slowly exhaling all air and imagining all the upset going out with it.
- Writings. Obviously, I’ve been using my blog, newsletters, and social media to work through some of this, not because I want to shame my family. I share so openly because I suspect many of you have similar challenges in your lives and are hurting, too.
Let us know if there is anything we can do to support you in freeing your emotions—so you can be free to soar! We remain committed to making 2018 your best year yet.