“Eh, you’d piss on your mother’s grave” my father shouted at me. “How could he say something so horrible to me?”, I thought.
Morty and I had gone down to Florida to spend Thanksgiving with my family. We wanted to go away overnight to have some time to ourselves and leave Blake who was about 6 years old with my parents.
When I told my dad our plans he got really angry
He thought we weren’t going to help my mom shop and cook for Thanksgiving dinner. That wasn’t the case but I was still devastated by what he said to me. Of course, conflict is common in families and it even shows up during the Holidays when we would rather be celebrating.
Why is it that being with family can be so upsetting?
The answer is the meaning we give to their behavior. When your mother criticizes your mashed potatoes for the hundredth time leaving you feeling inadequate. Or when your uncle endlessly repeats the same old stories boring you to tears. Or when someone brings up politics during dinner and you just want them to shut up. In each of these circumstances, we give meaning to the events that causes our feelings.
The mother’s criticism may mean “I’m not good enough for her.”
Hearing the uncle’s story again seems to have no value.
And the topic of politics may be seen as a kettle of worms you’d rather avoid.
But are these feelings inevitable?
No. We can dissolve the meaning we give to these events and many others freeling ourselves from negative emotions. One way to do it is to follow the steps of the Lefkoe Freedom Process.
1. Notice and label the upset feelings
2. Notice the events
3. Notice the meaning the mind gave the events
4. Notice that the meaning is separate from the events
5. If needed create some alternative interpretations for those events.
6. Notice any changes in the feeling.
Here’s an example:
Jan’s mom would criticize her cooking in subtle ways every time the family met. One year at Christmas Jan made a special mac and cheese recipe that she was really proud of. Everyone in the family loved it. But after Jan’s mom took one bite, she said it was too rich and she threw the rest away. Jan felt hear heart drop. However, she had just learned the LFP and decided to apply it.
Here’s what she wrote:
1. Feeling: Sad and heartbroken
2. Events: Mom said my mac and cheese was too rich
3. Meaning: I suck
4. Separation: I can see that the meaning is separate from the events.
5. Alternatives: She’s the kind of person who focuses on what’s wrong. It is too rich – for her but not for all people.
6. Changes: I feel lighter.
Jan said that normally that kind of thing would have been like a dark cloud hanging over her for the entire day. But she was able to let it go this time.
Being with family can be upsetting due to the meaning we give events
We can dissolve that meaning with the Lefkoe Freedom Process
The six steps involve noticing the following: Feelings, Events, Meaning, Separation, Alternatives and Changes
If I had the Lefkoe Freedom Process our conversation about leaving Blake with them for a night would have been very different
The meaning I gave his behavior was that he had no idea who I was and didn’t appreciate me at all. I remember fighting, screaming, crying and defending myself. He apologized profusely after it was over and it was draining for all of us. My dad is a very loving dad who often speaks without thinking and says things he doesn’t mean. If I had dissolved the meaning I gave his remarks, I could have gone straight to clarifying my plans instead of arguing.
And that’s what I hope for all of you during the Holidays
To dissolve any barriers to closeness with members of your family so you can communicate with love even when your feelings are hurt.
Try using the Lefkoe Freedom Process on specific events in which you had conflict with family members. Choose one that still bothers you and run through all six steps. And after you do, please let us know what you experienced in the comments below.