We had a family gathering at my house on Friday evening, since my sister and brother-in-law were visiting from Florida. The thing that stands out in my mind about it is that everyone was so GLAD to see each other. There was tangible joy, just to be together.
It is one of the greatest blessings I know to feel that love and see the connections between people I love. It makes the hassles of planning, communicating, cleaning and cooking all worth it, in spades.
Hearing laughter and chatter, seeing the men holding babies that are not their own, and LOVING them, seeing nieces and brothers helping themselves in the kitchen and a sister-in-law stirring pots is pure contentment to me.
I missed those that weren’t here, also. Nieces and nephews busy elsewhere with their own lives, great-nieces and nephews involved with other parts of their family, a brother on a book tour, parents who are no longer with us, aunts and cousins who are far away, all are missed.
Not everyone is blessed with joyful relationships. There isn’t always joy in these relationships, either. There can be irritation, hurt feelings, disappointment and confusion, as well. In some families there is outright hostility and estrangement. It pains me when I see it in families I know and love. I see and hear about painful relationships daily in my work as a therapist. It is a primary source of anguish and bewilderment for my clients.
The Dalai Lama encourages compassion for others, and reminds us to see that we are the SAME as others, and not so different. Understanding that the other is experiencing the same feelings, challenges, desires and frustrations can equalize things and help us to find empathy for him/her.
Terence Real, who wrote The New Rules of Marriage (Ballantine Books, 2008) and other books explains that many of us get caught up on an “escalator of contempt” which shuttles us back and forth between grandiosity (better than) and shame (worse than). When we think we have all the answers we look down on others with contempt and disdain. We pump ourselves up as more important than, smarter than, more talented than, etc. and grandiosity reigns. When we put ourselves down as stupid, unworthy, inadequate and unlovable we are in shame and are treating ourselves with contempt.
What gets missed is the experience of same as. We are fundamentally the same as everyone else, with inadequacies and amazing traits; quirks and gifts; bad behaviors and generosity; wisdom and foolishness; strengths and weaknesses. We are all human.
In recent years I have experienced some painful conflict in personal relationships. Some of it related to miscommunication and misunderstandings, some to unrestrained words of anger and judgment, some to differences that got translated into weaknesses and shortcomings. I was forced to see attitudes and behaviors in myself that were extremely hard to admit. The primary thing I must acknowledge is that I can be critical, shaming and grandiose. I also can feel rejected, ashamed, misunderstood, mistreated and unworthy.
Terry Real recommends stepping off the contempt escalator and remembering the other person is much like I am; not less than me and not better than me. It helps me manage my reactions and feelings when I remind myself, “same as.” The other person is struggling just like I am, feels similar feelings, and has many great qualities as well as shortcomings, just like me. The other is trying to be understood and get needs met just as I am; and is NOT out to get ME.
And I began to use a phrase in my head when I was feeling frustrated with someone and thinking, “they should have…” or “why don’t they…” The phrase I said to help me let go of judgment, anger and hurt feelings was “JUST LOVE ‘EM.”
It serves to remind me that the most important thing is that I DO love them, and that calms me down and allows me to accept them just as they are, which is, after all, what I want them to do with me. It takes me off the “contempt escalator” and allows me change my thinking, which changes my feelings and actions.
I try to say this to myself, as well, when I get a case of the “I should have…”