Giving Thanks, Not Giving In

At family dinners, judgement is often on the menu for every course, giving us the opportunity to increase our awareness and notice habitual tendencies to run, attack, or freeze.

Giorgio Magini/Dollar Photo Club

I felt trapped. I wanted to jump out of my skin and run naked through the streets. Instead, I took a breath, smiled, and casually asked my cousin (at least I think that’s who she was) to pass the potatoes—now—I mean, please.

I had travelled with my aunt to spend Thanksgiving weekend at the home of relatives.This arm of the gene pool had done very well for itself and lived in a mansion next to a famous person.

From the moment I stepped onto the property I sensed the house knew I didn’t belong. Yes, I am that person who paints their nails red over expensive white broadloom. But I mean well.

It was to be a two-night stay, or as I fondly remember it, a million gazillion family-contact nano-seconds. Before I left home, I had made a list of things that historically triggered my stress responses. The problem was that I had a tendency to become hostile and sarcastic if I imagined myself belittled or threatened. In the presence of family, I could be ignited by words like, “washcloth” or “yam.”

The trick is to know and feel and see and be with it all, whether pleasant or unpleasant, difficult or easy, soft or hard.

At dinner, when yet another vaguely familiar relative asked me if I was still with my husband, I took a breath and noticed my hands forming into claws. I reminded myself that I wanted to be more gentle with my family. When I noticed myself growing anxious, and judgemental at dinner, (what the hell was my second cousin wearing?) I took the opportunity to recall my stress-buster checklist:

  1. Take a Breath: really feeling the entire in-breath and out-breath.
  2. Name it to Tame it: I let myself notice and label the emotions and thoughts whizzing through my tormented noggin. Simply noticing had a very calming effect.
  3. Be Curious: Widen my curiosity and open to as much of the newness of the experience as I could…remembering I didn’t have to like what I was feeling, I simply needed to stay present to it all. Rinse, repeat.

Family gatherings spark so many emotions. There were difficult moments, but as I relaxed, and softened, the weekend became a little more manageable and occasionally even delightful. I let go of defending myself and opened to this experience that might never come again.

The trick is to know and feel and see and be with it all, whether pleasant or unpleasant, difficult or easy, soft or hard.

At family dinners, judgement is often on the menu for every course, giving us the opportunity to increase our awareness and notice habitual tendencies to run, attack, or freeze.

Find refuge in your breathing and give thanks.

3 Ways Mindfulness Can Help You Survive Family Occasions

What to Do When Things Fall Apart

x