The 7 C’s of Thanksgiving: Approaching Family Togetherness with Grace

“If you think you’re enlightened, go spend a week with your family.” Ram Dass

These wise words from a spiritual guru encourage us to approach the holiday season with a serving of humility that is greater than or equal to our serving of pumpkin pie. Family will always have the power to stir us up emotionally. Even if we have been in therapy. Even if we are devoted to the practice of self-growth. Even if we really truly believe that we are enlightened.

Instead of creating the goal, “I will not get triggered by my family,” consider opting for this goal instead: “I will relate with curiosity to the ways that my family triggers me.” What if you treat the emotional reactions that you have when you are with your family as “grist for the mill”? Your emotional reactions to your family are pathways to greater self-understanding, to greater patience, to greater compassion. Your family members are your greatest teachers (as you are a teacher for them).

In the service of creating a warm and open-hearted family vibe, take a peek at these 7 C’s of Thanksgiving. The first three C’s are the ones you should try to avoid. The last four C’s are the ones you should try to embrace.

Try to Avoid…

  • Catharsis

Remember the Seinfeld episode with the celebration of the holiday, Festivus. Immediately after Festivus dinner is served, George Costanza’s father begins with the Airing of Grievances, saying, “At the Festivus dinner, you gather your family around, and tell them all the ways they have disappointed you over the past year!” While hilarious on the show, a family gathering is not the best time for catharsis (the purging of intense emotions). Far better to set aside some quiet time for a conversation with your family member that begins like this: “I love and value our relationship which is why I would like us to speak with you about something that has been troubling me.”

  • Cynicism

As Neal Donald Walsch says, “Perspective creates perception.” Our mindset creates the filter through which we experience the world around us. Before entering your family gathering, set an intention to look for what is beautiful, funny, simple, and touching.

  • Comparison

Comparing yourself to others is a recipe for misery. Although this is certainly easier said than done, try to stay in your lane and practice the mantra, “My life is mine.”

Try to Embrace…

  • Compassion

Move through holiday family time with lots of compassion for yourself. Kristin Neff, master of all things self-compassion, says that self-compassion involves (1) treating yourself with the same amount of kindness that you would have a good friend, (2) remembering that you are not the first, last, or only person to feel what you are feeling right now, and (3) staying in the present moment, neither fast-forwarding yourself to a place of worry nor rewinding yourself to a place of regret.

  • Calibration

Calibrate your expectations. As Maya Angelou said, “When people show you who they are, believe them.” If your father has never been emotionally expressive, let go of the expectation that he will lavish you with praise about your new job and resist the urge to take it personally.

  • Conscious consumption

Thanksgiving tends to be a holiday rich with food and alcohol, and when the emotional heat gets turned up, we may turn to either or both in order to cope. In order to prevent using alcohol to numb out/escape/avoid, it can be helpful to decide ahead of time whether and how much you are going to drink. If you can, share your plan with someone else so that the two of you can hold each other accountable. Family togetherness and alcohol tend to be a treacherous combination. Regarding food, make a commitment to be gentle with yourself about your choices! Avoid the extremes of either binging or restriction. Opt instead to ride that delicious middle vibe– conscious awareness and pleasure.

  • Cardio

If, during your family gathering, you feel yourself moving away from calm, cool, and collected toward shame or blame (in other words, if you’re feeling triggered), take a break. Get some fresh air. Move your body. Our emotions and our bodies are deeply entwined, so physical movement can help us move difficult feelings through.

Wishing you and your family a very Happy Thanksgiving.

Note: My daughter does not understand why cranberry sauce is not one of the C’s.

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