Did you spend time with family and friends this holiday season? Many of us do. If you’re like me, it may be the only time in the whole year when all of you spend time together. You probably hoped and planned, perhaps traveled, and certainly invested time in being together.
Were you looking for connection? Did you get it? If not, you may be tempted to shrug and shake it off, relieved to have made it through. You may lick your wounds and get back to life as usual, calling yourself naïve or worse to have wanted something more with your family.
And yet, there are ways of getting more of the connection you want. Even with your family. I invite you to try the tips below. They work with family, with friends, and with yourself. If you start practicing now, you’ll be a pro by next holiday season.
7 Tips to Make Connection Easier
1. Set boundaries.
Boundaries help create clarity and structure. They demarcate where one person or event starts and another stops. Boundaries are a wonderful key to healthy relationships but for many of us they are hard to set and maintain. Why? Usually it’s because we’re afraid of being excluded or afraid we’re going to hurt someone’s feelings.
Here’s a good example of where saying no was initially challenging and ultimately more satisfying than a begrudging yes.
Mother: The holiday party at your brother’s starts at 5. Who are you riding with?
Adult Son: I’m not going this year. I want to stay home and take some time to myself. Mother: But everyone will be there. They’re all expecting you.
Son: Yes. And…?
Mother: Well, they’ll all want to see you and wonder where you are.
Son: Yes. And…?
He answered her calmly and gently without justifying or defending his position past his initial explanation. To me he later said “I’ve come to realize that being social just because I’m expected to is a recipe for depression and anxiety for me. I’m only going if I genuinely want to. My mother is coming around to understanding that, too. She was pretty surprised at first.”
What boundary do you want to set? What might happen if you do?
2. Only play the games you want to play.
Being playful is a great way to connect. Dancing and singing can be ways to feel goofy and let your inhibitions down. Card games, puzzles, and board games can give you a common activity to do with someone you may feel you have nothing in common with except shared bloodlines. I suggest physically playful games like wrestling with affection and trying to get each other’s socks off. Even more I encourage you to find a game that helps you connect in the way you want.
It’s also OK to say “I’ll play this game as long as I’m having fun and when I’m not, I’m going to go do something else I’d rather do.” Maybe you’re really playing a game like Charades or maybe the game is sitting around watching TV or gossiping at the holiday dinner table. A ‘game’ in this context is any activity. Do it as long as you’re enjoying it. When you aren’t, change it.
What games are you playing that you’d rather not? What do you want to do instead?
Hold yourself in gentle compassion. You have the ability to love yourself just as you are. You can be the good friend who’s got your back. When you’ve got your back, anyone else’s criticism doesn’t hurt as much. You’re not afraid to lose yourself.
Your solid sense of self makes it much easier to deal with others no matter what’s going on with them or what they say. Holding yourself in compassion makes it easier to be compassionate and curious about other people. And that makes connection easier for everyone.
In order to find the gifts in the family drama, you can connect with the different parts of you. One client of mine was lamenting that her sister didn’t know her, judged her, and that their relationship was really hard. As she talked, she expressed frustration, resentment, hatred, hope, love, fear, resignation, and curiosity. We settled in to listen compassionately to the different emotions she was feeling.
We treated each emotion as a different part – like each emotion was a unique character in her inner world. Each part had its own opinions, emotions, values, and judgments. And each part, no matter how much it seemed to be sabotaging her efforts at connection with her sister, wanted safety and happiness for her. As we listened to the parts, my client had several insights that left her feeling lighter, more at peace, and more certain of how she wanted to proceed with her sister.
Within a week, she was able to articulate clearly and without accusation how she was feeling and what she would like to experience with her sister. She said “It will still take time to get to know my sister, but I feel like I have the tools to really connect with her now. I’m more aware of myself and not so desperate for her to like me. I can be more honest and that feels really good.”
What will happen when you listen to your parts?
5. Take a risk.
Real relationships and connections involve risk. You have to become vulnerable. Most of us resist vulnerability because we are afraid of being hurt. Parts work and accepting yourself as you are can work together to make vulnerability less scary.
In the example with my client above, when she listened to the part of her that was afraid to be vulnerable with her sister she learned this part was afraid to be hurt and annihilated. Yet just the day before our session, my client had had an intense and vulnerable conversation with her sister. I asked her to check the fear this part had against the actual experience. It was actually pretty good. Once she right-sized her experience of how hard it was versus how hard she thought it might be, her parts relaxed and allowed her to consider her relationship with less fear. This made it easier for her to connect with her sister later.
When you drop your mask you allow the chance for authentic connection. What risk do you want to take?
6. Notice where they are right.
Once you’re being compassionate with yourself and have a solid sense of your own rightness, you can let in the words you’ve been so busy defending against. It can feel so good to stop defending yourself and step into your life. When you no longer waste your energy resisting and defending, you free up your energy. Curiosity and greater effectiveness often follow.
Here’s an example: Your mother starts talking about how great your sister’s job is and how wonderful she’s doing while you are struggling to find your niche and currently unemployed. Instead of bristling as though she’s attacking you, step into agreement. She wants to see you safe and happy. You do too. You would like to see yourself spending your time in ways you love and having abundant financial resources. While this might not be ‘employment’ as your mother sees it, you still have more in common than you thought. That doesn’t mean you are failing as a human being or that you’re less worthwhile than your sister.
You don’t have to waste your energy comparing yourself or defending your choices.
7. Let it in. Let it through.
A great mantra to remember is “Let it in. Let it through.” It reminds you not to attack, compare, or defend. Don’t defend against the words – just let them in. Don’t hang on to the words or judgments – just let them run through you like water through a colander.
What judgment from your friends or family are you resisting? What would happen if you let it in and let it through?
You can apply these tips at any time and in any order. I like to start with connecting to my compassionate presence and doing parts work. I appreciate how those two practices help me connect with the underlying values, needs, feelings and judgments of different parts of me and of other people. When I remember to listen for these things, I realize that there is meaning and reason to even the hardest to understand behaviors of myself and others. I also find it hardest to remember to relate this way when I’m around my family. The people closest to us often trigger our least conscious reactions. That’s why it’s a good idea to start practicing now for next year.
If you have any questions, stop by parentcoaching.org or leave a comment below.
[About the author: Kassandra Brown lives at Dancing Rabbit Ecovillage in the rural Missouri countryside. Through her business at ParentCoaching.org she supports parents in relationships, self-care, business, and parenting. Images: Top – mikebaird, Middle – .reid., Bottom – MarkDoliner]