SALT LAKE CITY — In this edition of LIFEadvice Coach Kim explains why we struggle with family conflict and how to make forgiveness happen so your family parties are more fun.
I want you to address in a column what you do when family members aren't speaking. How do you tactfully handle family holiday parties when they refuse to be in the same place as each other, but you have to invite them both? One has issued an ultimatum that they want us to choose sides, which we feel is not the right thing to do. Is there any way to navigate these bad relationships or fix them? Please give us some advice.
Many people suffer from depression and anxiety around the holidays. Some have it because they have no family to be with, others have it because they do have family to be with. Family gatherings can be a real challenge if there is resentment, hurt feelings, and conflict between your guests.
We recommend you send this article to both parties and tell them you love and support them, and just want everyone to suffer less this holiday season. Explain that you have no judgment around this issue and totally understand how hard it is to deal with these conflicts, but you just want to help both sides heal.
I believe we are on this planet for one reason — to learn, grow and become better. Our main objective is to learn to love ourselves and other people at a deeper level. If this is true, forgiving would be the No. 1 most important lesson, and it's a challenging one too because our ego side really likes to hold onto judgment.
It’s easy to love people who are kind and good to us. Loving people who hurt us is the challenge that pushes us and forces us to rise. It shows us the limits of our love and gives us the chance to stretch and grow them.
If you are going to change how you feel about an offense, you will need to learn to look at the situation in a new way. This article is going to help you do that. You may feel like you aren’t ready, but "I'm not ready" is just an excuse we use when we can't articulate the real reason we don't want to forgive.
You must identify the real reason you are holding onto this offense and don't want to forgive it. Here are some possibilities:
- Do you think staying angry protects you from further mistreatment and forgiving would allow more of it?
- Is staying mad (and casting this person as the bad guy in your story) allowing you to avoid looking at your own faults, mistakes or pain? Sometimes it’s less painful to be mad than it is to deal with your part in whatever happened. Do you need to see the other person as the bad one in order to feel good about yourself?
- Are you using anger and hurt as an excuse to keep people away from you, because you actually have issues with dealing with emotions and relationships, and you would rather avoid the whole thing? Is your anger justifying or giving you a reason not to process your emotions or learn better relationship skills, yet blame it on someone else?
- Are you waiting to see more shame and guilt on the other person before you can forgive? Do you feel like they haven’t been punished enough?
Now, here is the truth about each of those:
- Staying mad doesn’t protect you from further mistreatment. Good boundaries enforced with strength and love do. You can forgive and still be safe.
- You are here on this planet to work on fixing YOU, that should be your main focus. You must stop pointing fingers at others and work on growing, learning and becoming better and more loving yourself. That is your job.
- If you have issues around emotions you must stop avoiding them and learn how to process them in a healthy way. You must learn this so YOU can have a happy, rich, fulfilled life. Staying mad at others to avoid your feelings will never create happiness. Learning some improved relationship skills will also make your life better.
- Every day you have to choose if you would rather be right or happy. Your ego wants to be right, but it’s the wrong choice. Choosing happiness is the way to go.
- Forgiving does not require that the other person be punished or repent first. If you wait for that you will only be hurting yourself and your family longer.
Here are a couple of principles that might help you to forgive and let go:
1. Remember none of us are perfect.
This person did something wrong and it sounds like this was an especially painful wrong, but you aren’t perfect either. You may not have made this mistake, but you have made others. You must remember that you are both imperfect, struggling students in the classroom of life, with lots more to learn, who both deserve forgiveness.
You don’t want every mistake you ever made held against you forever. In order to feel forgiven for your past wrongs, you must give others the same.
2. You alone are responsible for the pain you are experiencing.
No situation can cause you pain without your participation in it. Your thoughts and feelings are under your control and this means no one can take away your pain or give you pain. You alone have that power. If you struggle to understand this principle, read my previous KSL article about choosing to be upset.
You must grasp the truth that you are in control of your thoughts and feelings. You can feel better right now if you want to. You don’t have to wait until you feel ready to forgive. You can choose to be ready now.
3. The other person is guilty of bad behavior, but you both have the same infinite and absolute value.
You both have the same value no matter how many mistakes either of you makes. This is true because life is a classroom, not a test, and our value isn't on the line.
That does not mean we can sit back and stop improving though. It means our lack of knowledge and need for improvement doesn’t affect our intrinsic value. We have the same intrinsic value regardless of the amount of learning we still need to do. You want this principle to be true because you want it to be true for you.
4. Forgiveness happens best when you see yourself and others accurately.
Forgiveness will happen when you see yourself and others as innocent, completely forgiven, struggling, scared, messed up, but perfect students in the classroom of life, with lots more to learn. Most of us think forgiving is about seeing people as guilty and then trying to pardon them for those mistakes. If you try to forgive this way it will never happen. You will still be hung up on the fact they are guilty. Forgiveness will never work when it’s a gift undeserved.
Instead, let all the wrongs, pain and hurt on both sides of this be wiped clean of all selfish, fear-based, bad behavior. It is time to let go and accept divine forgiveness for both of you. Let the other person be a “work in progress” and don’t crucify yourself or them for mistakes. Accept the gift of forgiveness and see life as a classroom where mistakes don’t count against our value. We can just all erase them all and try again.
5. Forgiveness is the key to happiness and it is the only way to peace, confidence and security.
This is universal law. The key to forgiveness lies in one very simple choice that you must make over and over every day. What energy do you want to live in? You have two options — you can live in judgment, blame and anger energy? Or forgiveness, peace and joy energy?
Judgment energy means you stand in judgment of others, condemning and crucifying them for past mistakes. If you choose this mindset, you are giving power to the idea that people can be "not good enough" and should be judged harshly, which will come back on you too. You will always struggle with your own self-esteem and this energy will feel heavy, negative and unhappy.
Your other option is a forgiveness energy. Here you choose to forgive yourself and others, and completely let go of every misconceived, stupid, selfish, fear-based mistake either of you has ever made. You choose to see these mistakes for what they really are, bad behavior born of confusion, self-doubt, lack of knowledge, low self-esteem and fear. In this place, you choose to see everyone as innocent and forgiven and let them (and you) start over with a clean slate every day.
If you choose this mindset, you will feel safe, loved, whole and good about yourself and this energy will be light, peaceful and happy.
The question is: How do you want to live?
Consider letting go of the past offense and showing up at the family gathering with nothing but love and compassion in your heart. This doesn’t mean you have to be close to or deal with the other person, but it does mean treating them with respect, compassion and kindness. It means understanding that negative feelings hurt you more than they hurt them. It means choosing to focus on gratitude and being the love in the room, then on the past and casting blame.
You can do this.
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