Relationship Gone Sour: Parents & Adult Children – Getting Back On Track (‘Can This Relationship Be Saved?’ Part II)

If children are like little caterpillars guided by the Universe into the parent’s meadow of life, then it would be logical for the parent to expect a butterfly to one day emerge – ready to take flight. Parents hopefully offer the best environment they can (mind/body/spirit) to assist their children to recognize their own pure beautiful inner spirits. Ideally parents also offer mind/body/spirit survival tools to help their young fulfill personal and professional potential.

As children go off into the wide wonderful world, they need to know their parents are available to emotionally support and encourage them, with acceptance and love – no strings attached. (Feel free to leave comments – especially if you disagree).

Lucky is the parent whose adult children choose to perpetuate healthy patterns and break unhealthy ones set during their upbringing. Blessed is the parent whose children continue the family traditions, holidays, and dinners enjoyed by all during childhood. What happens when this is not the case? What if the children become interested in traditions outside of those with which they were raised? Deep breath. Stay centered. Read on.

Parents of adult children often need to be very patient, gentle and kind in the face of what may appear to be blatant rejection by their offspring – especially when the children enter their twenties, and become interested in trying out all sorts of lifestyles introduced along their journey. Paths, choices, friends, even dietary preferences may differ from those with which they were raised. Parents need to remember: every journey is sacred. Your child was a caterpillar guided into your meadow. It was your responsibility to provide all you could until the time your child would spin that chrysalis and break through with wings. It is healthy for adult offspring to respectfully reject the parents’ ways as the emerging adult offspring selects a personal lifestyle which may conflict with choices made by parents.

Parents who accept the offspring – even if they don’t adopt the newly chosen lifestyle rhythm for themselves, create feelings of unconditional love. When parents reject the new lifestyle choices, children may feel they themselves have been rejected. This could complicate the adult relationship that follows. Ideally, children and parents trust and respect each other enough to get past lifestyle differences.

Coping With The Emptying Nest

It is a blessing when a parent can be confident in the skills she or he provided to the child(ren). Preparing offspring with tools necessary to navigate life’s unpredictable terrain with gratitude, joy and centered peace is what a responsible parent does. Parents who offer love without fear, encouragement without strings, support without guilt, and who sincerely believe their children have tremendous potential – as well as the ability to fulfill it, often have less anxiety about children leaving the nest than do parents who used fear, shame and/or guilt to control their children during youth.

Setting the stage for positive relationships. Offering children skills to find their own happiness sets the stage for acceptance, trust and respect going forward.  Parents are able to cultivate gratitude within the family unit when they themselves were raised with respect and love without bitterness, control or fear. Though easier to follow this pattern when raised this way – anyone can learn how to do it.

The first step is honest self-reflection. Ask yourself a few difficult questions regarding your own fears, shame & guilt. If this creates anxiety, then the next step may be to find a reputable, well trained mental health professional to create a safe space for you to review & reflect. Your goal is to embrace the following truth: you deserved better in your youth, and now need to offer better to your own children. Where there is life there is hope.

Once healed enough, a heartfelt, “I know what I did wrong, where I let you down, how I screwed things up, and I now understand how to nourish a healthy adult relationship with you” can begin to repair your parent/child relationship – if both are interested and willing.

The promise is big. The relationship may require a third party who is a well-trained mental health professional to get it back on track.

Reestablishing Communication

The parent and child may begin to resolve once a safe space is able to be maintained for an hour, once a week, for a few months (even if only through ‘cyberspace’ – i.e. SKYPE, if geography is a factor) .

What happens when the parent reaches out to the adult child, but consistently finds the child is interested only in either (1) viciously attacking the parent or (2) engaging solely in small talk? This does seem complex – because of the extraordinary maturity and focused energy required on the part of the parent, but is able to be resolved if (1) both parent and adult child sincerely want resolution and (2) neither has an uncontrolled personality disorder or lives with an unaddressed brain chemistry imbalance. Additionally, the ages of the people involved, life experiences, and mental status of both impact the outcome.

That having been said, there is never an appropriate time to accept abuse of any sort. It is often valuable to draw a healthy boundary beginning with, “this is clearly a hot topic for us. Let’s agree to discuss it with a mental health professional as our third party.” This boundary helps create a safe space, shows you are interested in the discussion and resolution, and demonstrates recognition that you require guidance to be certain you both hear each other accurately.

Chances are greater that resolution can occur if both parent & adult child are (a) mentally well (i.e. neither suffers with an unresolved personality disorder; for example, one such as BPD, unless there is a successful treatment plan in place facilitating healing and resolution) and, (b) the parent is in his/her 50’s / the adult child in his/her 20’s – than if there is an uncontrolled personality disorder in one or both, &/or if this is between an 80 year old parent and adult child in his/her 50’s.

In the case where the parent is around 80 years of age and the child around 50 years of age, chances that the child built a life around a long-standing ‘disconnect’ is greater than the scenario in which the parent/child team is 30 years younger. Recognizing that, unless there is a personality disorder in one or both and/or if age and lifestyle built around the dysfunction for more than 10 years is working against the relationship, there are steps each can take to re-build the healthy, happy relationship both desire.

Values. A possible way for one or the other to begin: “I want to see if we can improve our relationship. I’d like to tell you what I value and I wonder if you would feel comfortable to share what you value. That way, we can each communicate in a way the other can appreciate.”  The more values you have in common, the easier it is to reestablish the caring relationship you both state you want. Mutual respect grows when people accept and understand each other.

~ Worst Case Scenario ~

In the case wherein a retired father in his 80’s and a busy, jet-setting son in his 50’s agree they both wish to reconnect emotionally, the father might discover that he values deep heartfelt discussions with his son while the son values donating all his spare time at a soup kitchen. Both father and son have separate needs – each defining himself by different externals. The father seeks self-definition as ‘a father’ and the son seeks self-definition as ‘a philanthropist’ – but neither one can satisfy the other, given their separate goals. The son might find a relationship with the father takes too much energy – energy he prefers to spend elsewhere in order to satisfy his definition of ‘self’.

~ Is mine a ‘worst’ or ‘best case’ scenario? ~

In the example wherein the father has time and desire to have deep philosophical discussions, address past disconnects, mend unresolved issues, walk in the woods or take a father/son fishing trip – essentially feels driven to build a future relationship, he might begin with a question similar to this: “Son, we’ve grown apart. I know you are very busy and doing your best to balance a hectic schedule. Do you miss our time together?” The son would then say either ‘yes’ or ‘no’. If the son agrees that a closer relationship is what he wants, the father’s next step would be to say, “I realize your schedule is tight. What I value is quality chats. Do you value these, too?”  This gives the son an opportunity to agree, disagree, or redefine in accordance with his own values.

Hints and tips that clarify truth. The son might say, “I absolutely love quality chats.  You and I  have them all the time.” In this response, the son makes clear he is satisfied with the current level of communication. To be sure the father understands, he might follow-up by seeking clarification: “Son, are you saying you are okay with the way things are between us? No issues to discuss? Nothing to work on?”  If the son says, “Yes” then the father needs to realize the son is satisfied with the current level of communication – even though the father is not. The father needs to defer to the son’s stated preference and recognize that his son is his own person; his journey is sacred. Let it go. Remain available. Stop pushing.

On the other hand, the son might say, “I absolutely love quality talks and I miss them also.”  In this response, the son suggests a desire to work to improve the relationship. This opens the door for the next steps.  Now that father and son agree there is something missing, and share a desire to fix it, a return to the initial statement focuses on the elephant in the room: time. The father might say, “Realizing your schedule is tight, when can you possibly squeeze me in?” The son might say, “I can call on my way home from work.  I will have about 15 minutes to chat.”

Father and son agree on a time to chat. Once on the phone, the father (since he started this mending scenario) would have to be considerate of the boundaries of time from the son’s perspective. The goal is to build trust by honoring (without fear, shame or guilt – given or accepted) the son’s time. This means the father could, during that ‘on the drive home’ chat, state a concern that weighs on his mind, without expectation that an answer would be given in a specific time frame dictated by the father. The concern is stated, then an indication that ‘no answer is expected at this time – but that one would be greatly appreciated whenever the son gets around to it’ opens the door to the next defining steps.

Learning where you are on the other’s ‘list of priorities’ defines the relationship & impacts energy you invest going forward

The value of the above stated approach (letting the other person know what you value, and seeing where it falls on that person’s list of priorities) – in this case, from the father to the son, affords the father an opportunity to see where he is on his son’s full plate.  The father needs to be ready to understand that just as he might be honored as front and center, he might not be on the plate at all.  Sadly, he might not even be at the table from the son’s perspective (and the son might or might not even be aware of it).  The father’s status becomes clear in the timing and quality of the son’s response after that chat – and in the ways in which the son handles clarification sought by the father.

Rejected: by someone you respect? REFLECT; by someone you don’t? REJOICE.

Respecting rejection. If the son takes several days to respond to the concern, without offering an ‘interlude’ email or phone call excusing himself from giving this the attention it deserves (knowing it is of value to his father), the father might recognize he is not as much of a priority to the son as the son is to him. From the son’s perspective, the fact that he even thought about his father that day might mean (to the son) that the son invested more energy in the father than the father deserved.

The son might have repressed deep-seated anger or resentment. By the same token, the son might have – on his own, with or without therapy, long since resolved any issues with his father, to the point where he concluded he never really wishes to reconnect in the way the father wants/ needs.  Whether the son has firm self-protective boundaries because of unresolved childhood trauma or has truly healed enough to permit himself to move on without catering to the father’s needs – the son’s reality must be embraced and respected by the father.

What would not be appropriate would be for the one who rejects the other (in this case the son rejecting the father’s reaching out) to twist the reality to appear ‘as if’ the one rejecting the other has been rejected by the other. We see this in families and friendships when the one who rejects another claims to be the victim of the short end of the stick, poor treatment etc., without owning the recognition that she/he is the one who boxed out the other.

Awakening in recognition of truth. Whether it is repression of trauma or awakening through healing, if the son elects ‘no relationship’, the reality won’t become clear until the father makes himself vulnerable, and permits the son to be in the position of power – to reject the father on the son’s own terms.  Unless the father permits this, he risks distracting the son from the reality that the son rejected the father’s reaching out. This may morph into the possibility that the son might self-victimize ‘as if’ he was rejected – when in truth, it is the son outgrowing the need for a relationship with his father that drives the division. The son rejects the father; the son needs to own it; the father needs to respect it.

After all is said and done, children have the right to ‘move on’ – even if it disappoints the parents. If you are the adult child rejecting the parent/child relationship:  own it. When and if children choose to reject the parent(s) – for whatever reason, the adult children owe it to themselves to admit they accept responsibility for rejecting the parent(s). Parents have the responsibility to offer the best they can to their children, and remain available to the best of their ability.

If or when children outgrow, reject, cut off communication etc., the parents need to accept and remain available. If you are the parent rejected by your adult child: recognize your child has the right to draw boundaries where she/he chooses. This is his/her life. She/he has a sacred journey to travel. The best you can do is send positive energy through the Universe for healing and guidance to all your children – those who accept as well as those who reject you and/or your lifestyle choices. [To read Part I, click here]

I wish every reader healing of mind, body and spirit – and, with gratitude for your time in reading this very long article, I invite you to disagree with any point made.  May you and those you love be blessed and centered.

Namaste,

Dr. Nancy Iankowitz

Relationship Gone Sour – Can It Be Fixed? (Part I)

 

Wondering where you stand? Here are a few clues: when a family member with whom you once shared unconditional love says:  “Call me only in an emergency” there is a clear self-protective boundary being drawn. This suggests that person doesn’t feel safe with you on some level – be it physical, emotional or spiritual.  That individual may have once been (or may at some time in the future be) interested in working on repairing your relationship; however, right now – time, distance and space may be required.

As you honor that space, giving that person control to reduce ‘exposure’ to you, the comfort and trust you earn over the hours, days, weeks or months that follow hopefully permit time for that person to regain perspective. Once ‘enough’ time has passed, resolution initiated by the one who requested the time/space, may begin. Note: At no time is it appropriate for one person to lean on time and silence as if they erase past events. The trigger for the disagreement may require a third party to moderate – but ignoring the issue serves only to build resentment.

How much time is ‘enough’?

In a love relationship, wherein two people share the same bedroom, it may only take a few hours; two people (friends or a couple) with separate residences or who share a common residence but do not share a bedroom, it may take a few days; two adults – either siblings or parent and adult child, a few weeks or months might be necessary.

The time apart ideally permits a respectful return to work together as a team to tackle the issue.

If, however, the one honoring the request ‘for space’ (made by the other) is somehow ‘faulted for the space and/or time’ offered in deference to the request by the other person, or is otherwise disrespected/ attacked, and/or approached in an abusive way, then larger issues are likely afoot. A professional mental health provider might be required to facilitate reconciliation.  Mentally balanced individuals who request space for self-reflection usually regain enough perspective to bring up the topic of the ‘disconnect’ – with gratitude in recognition for the respectful distance afforded by the other person.

Method of communication. Be mindful that, unless you both offer and accept information in a similar way (both either bottom liners or detailed and wordy) sentence structure, energy brought to the discussion, word choice and number of words, even body posture (subtle vs. drama) might be the source of repeated issues. In this case, as long as values, trust, love and respect are all intact, resolution of the disconnect serves to strengthen the relationship.  Any ‘rift’ distracts – at least initially, from the relationship. Communication style between a wordy, detailed sharer and a ‘bottom-liner’ may be a recipe for disaster – if both people drive each other nuts, feel unheard, get overloaded or don’t feel validated. Patience becomes an important skill to master in order to nourish the relationship.

Trust and respect to the rescue. While rifts caused by issues surrounding styles of communication may feel as wide as those caused by lack of trust and/or respect, they are less complex to heal. People who share mutual trust and respect lean on these strengths as they sort through issues surrounding communication styles. On the other hand, two people lacking mutual trust and/or respect may be at a disadvantage. Without trust and respect, either or both often implement heavy self-protective boundaries which, by definition, distract from sharing ‘unconditional love’; that is, one or both tend to lean on the boundaries rather than the heart of the other to feel safe.

Q: How can you figure out where the rift is and what caused it?

A: Sometimes you know.  Sometimes you don’t.

 

I know where I went wrong. If you know exactly what you did to cause the rift, it is actually up to you to initiate the repair, especially if there was a close, trusting relationship prior to the request for space. If you have absolutely no idea what is going on or why that request was made, seeking clarification may further aggravate the situation. In most healthy, well balanced relationships, disagreements are inevitable. The key is: willingness to give each other the appropriate space to calm down, then return to the issue at hand. The ‘space’ required is usually no longer than an hour or two before ‘perspective’ kicks in. At that point, both people are often able to lean on their mutual love & respect, feeling safe to approach the topic of disagreement as a team. As noted above, relationships grow in strength when this takes place.

What happens when one feels ready to work on the relationship, but the other does not? If both agree that space apart is needed, and one seems consistently ‘ready’ to work things out before the other – patience needs to be cultivated.  If there is chronic refusal on the part of one partner to return to the issue, and/or if pouting, victimizing, tantrums and/or abusive language or behavior is a predictable part of given scenarios, this may indicate deeper issues unrelated to any small disagreement. Intervention that includes an unbiased, professional mental health provider may be of value.

Repeatedly leaning on a friend or family member, no matter how well educated or well-meaning, may set up a potentially unhealthy dynamic. Of course, minor disagreements that are singular in occurrence, as well as debates about ideas regarding vacationing, interior decorating and the like which may go off track can benefit from a friend or family member lending perspective; however, when there is a familiar issue that continues to inject itself into daily life, becoming more labor intensive as it threatens balance, joy and the relationship itself, professional intervention is often helpful.

When arguing ‘is’ and ‘is not’ healthy. Again, when two people in a loving relationship share a mutual desire to help each other fulfill potential, part of that experience does include disagreements from time to time. Communication during these moments defines the relationship. Over years, patterns emerge. If one’s partner, for example, adopts the attitude, “I just need to not rock the boat” one might wonder: “is this an attempt at self-preservation – because the other person controls by throwing temper tantrums, or is this an illusion indicative of a wounded toddler who was emotionally (or physically) beaten into submission-now an adult lacking in healthy relationship tools?”

Dr. Randi Gunther, a clinical psychologist and marriage counselor suggests that abandonment, power and ownership are often at the root of certain disconnects between couples – and there are particular phrases used to indicate underlying issues. Click on her name to read more about that.

I wish every reader healing of mind, body and spirit – and, with gratitude for your time in reading this very long article, I invite you to disagree with any point made.  May you and those you love be blessed and centered.

Namaste,

Dr. Nancy Iankowitz

(Please click here to continue to Part II)

Children Are Our Legacy

Parents want the best for their children and are often confused by so many varying approaches to rearing – in particular, limit setting, investment of time and energy, diet and nutrition, sleep and the list goes on.  New parents ask: “Is there a ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ way to do it all?”  The answer to THAT questions is: “Yes, there is a right and wrong . . .” The issue, however, is not “right” or “wrong” per say – but rather, “How can I determine what is best for MY child, to help facilitate fulfillment of his/her potential/ highest good?”

Learning to Ask the Correct Questions is KEY

It helps to keep in mind what your goals are.  If you have a secret desire to create a caretaker for yourself in your old age, then you might choose parenting techniques that instill fear, shame and guilt. The brutal truth regarding this approach is as follows: Unless your child grows into an adult lucky enough to find a well educated mental health provider, his/her life will be filled with years of frustration, anger and resentment. So, unless you are interested in creating a societal misfit emotionally incapable of investing in a mutual loving relationship with another human, consider dissolving the fear, shame and guilt approach at its source.  The source may be YOU.

Am I able to give the best of myself to my child? Once we become parents, old wounds from childhood are suddenly ripped open.  We often make conscious decisions to never follow the poor examples set, and to only follow the good ones . . . and yet, unless we are really resolved, we are destined to not only repeat the old poor parenting patterns to which we were exposed, but we invent new dysfunctional patterns. Click here for recommendations about how to break old toxic patterns.

How can I avoid robbing my child of an adulthood filled with balance and internal peace?  Consider recognizing that your little bundle of miracles came into this world to experience joy and channel positive energy – as did you.  Your child deserves unconditional love, and the best you have to offer.  If you are able to channel positive energy, peace and comfort, you might be healed enough to be able to give the best of what you have to your child.  However, if you (&/or your parenting partner) struggle with addiction, phobias, fear, shame, guilt, anxiety, or even rage, try to embrace the truth that these don’t define the true spirit. These flag that the person was damaged as a child and deserves to be healed.  You might find this resource helpful: click here.  For additional resources, click here.

Ready to embark upon a healthy parenting adventure

How can I help my toddler become an independent thinking adult?  Once you are healed enough to offer your ‘best parenting self’ to your young, you are ready to set limits and boundaries in a way that facilitates your child’s healthy development. Click here to read guidelines offered by the Parenting Assistance Line.

How can I help my child become a go-getter? If your goal is to inspire your toddler to become a ‘go-getter’ – be aware of the pros and cons.  While you wish to give your child a competitive edge, the risk you run is that you might accidentally create a self-protective person who believes success is a ‘win-at-all-cost’ adventure. If this is not your goal – reconsider your question. While you might strive to help your child embrace life’s journey safely and with wisdom, you might actually create a young adult who has one goal: to ‘be the best/ be top dog’ and one who has a  ‘win at all cost’ attitude. Click here to read more about the possible outcomes to be considered.

What is the best way to set limits?   There are as many opinions on this issue as there are children on the planet.  For a few tips on age-appropriate limit-setting, click here to read a few easy-to-navigate blogs. Appropriate limit setting helps children feel secure, safe, confident and loved. Using fear, shame or guilt are not ever  appropriate. These tactics are distractions to healthy development, create frustration and anger, and may even arrest your child’s development. This creates a ‘wounded toddler’ – setting the stage for unhealthy life choices, poor interpersonal skills and a lifetime of misery.  We are all ‘wounded toddlers’ to a degree. In order to avoid perpetuating this pattern of poor parenting, click here for a few insights.

To read more about ‘wounded toddlers’ and the life poor parenting (using fear/shame/ guilt) may set children up for, click here.    It is essential to set healthy boundaries and appropriate limits. To understand why, click here.

What about diet and nutrition for my toddler? Dr. Mark Hyman has a few wonderful, very easy-to-read and even easier to implement recommendations. Click here for useful hints and tips.

Life is filled with obstacles, mazes, challenges and lessons which, once mastered, are followed by a continuing adventure filled with even more paths that help us fulfill our potential. I wish you a journey filled with blessings, and the ability to embrace all with gratitude and good humor.  wishing you balance, wellness and positive energy,

~Dr. Nancy Iankowitz

Protecting Our Children From Our Anxiety

The vibration between parents trickles down to children and animals in the home. This is not news to anyone who lives with other people. So how can parents who are over-burdened with anxiety regarding tight finances and distress over the nation’s politics, compounded by health issues, work (or unemployment) and perhaps even issues surrounding disagreement about parenting decisions neutralize negativity enough to create a loving, supportive, nurturing environment at home?

Click the link (far below) to listen to a lively and heartfelt interview with Dr. Daniel Cohen PhD, Psychologist, Executive Director of the NY Testing and Guidance Center Emeritus, Professor of psychology, licensed marriage and family counselor, (and so many additional credentials – more than are practical to list here).

He shares insights and techniques to assist parents and partners – whether stressed or calm, in their effort to cope effectively with ‘spirited’ children who might attempt to ‘divide and conquer’.  In addition to learning how to help YOUR offspring accept responsibility, self-reflect and fulfill personal and professional potential, you will hear Dr. Cohen offer hints and tips to strengthen the bond between partners, citing early indicators that the couple might be “off-track” – and offering interventions to get you back on the same page.

Click here to enjoy this brief video (allow about 20 minutes to watch the entire conversation).  Please feel free to share with anyone who might benefit from it.  Here’s to you mind/body/spirit balance, successful nurturing of the next generation, and to your joy, inner peace and best health.  ~Dr. Iankowitz

Functional Medicine Embraces Prevention and Healing

 

The essence of Dr. Iankowitz’ approach to wellness is:

Logic, Prevention, Common Sense & Healing

Dr. Iankowitz sees the human body as a complex set of organ systems that are designed to self heal.  In the video below Dr. Iankowitz shares her views and approach to wellness.

 

1. We each have an innate ability to heal ourselves and others. Dr. Iankowitz offers a functional medical assessment, is respectful of your views, and works within whatever system and/or cultural background you feel will facilitate your healing.

2. People have unique relationships with whatever disease process they experience. When you request facilitated healing, it is important to determine how you perceive your  ‘illness’ or ‘condition.’  Once this is established,  your healing journey – guided by Dr. Iankowitz, begins.

3. If one has a secretly vested interest in holding on to a condition, this suggests the illness may be viewed by the patient as a friend. The response of the health practitioner must take the patient’s reality into account. Referrals are made to licensed, certified professionals including mental health, physical therapy, massage therapy, holistic optometry, herbal practitioners and more, upon patient request.

4. Patient perception governs the ‘success’ or ‘failure’ of treatment. Dr. Iankowitz embraces and appreciates that success is defined by your comfort with your health status. Your physical and emotional ease, freedom and joy are key factors in determining your personal ‘success’ in facilitated healing.

Each individual embodies a multi-cultural reality, and each encounter is unique and valid. While the conventional medical model works within the central portion of the bell shaped curve (suggesting that ‘the norm’ should apply to ‘all’), the functional medical model permits a ‘patient-centered’ approach (recognizing that each individual is unique). Dr. Iankowitz embraces an eclectic view, in accordance with values supported by the Nurse Practitioner model blended with the evidence-based practice of functional medicine.

 

“Home” For The Holidays (Part 2): Communication, Reading Signals & Avoiding Traps

Healthy Communication: “Take a Hint” (What Can One Safely Assume?)

  • When one is forced to use the imagination to fill in gaps after honest effort to seek clarification, is it safe to assume the confusion was somehow intentional?
  • When questions are appreciated, is it safe to assume clarification is sought in an effort to deepen a relationship?
  • When questions are regarded as ammunition and attacks, is it safe to assume those who regard them as such are frightened, lack trust, and/or wish to avoid closeness? Can one assume another prefers to avoid responsibility related to the situation at hand?

When a question is put forth, each person has decisions to make based upon the relationship. Without a shared history between two people, there exists no personal experience to draw upon. Even if ‘reputation’ precedes one or both, motives rise quickly to the surface by the ways in which clarification is handled.

Essentially, people who are able to be trusted find it easy to trust others; people who don’t trust others are defensive, often deliberately mislead others and basically hide from themselves by pointing fingers at those around them.

Trust vs. Mistrust: The Trap

When the predisposition (trust vs. mistrust) of each person is evenly matched, communication is usually mutually satisfactory. Two people who are able to trust and be trusted often discover they can build a potentially strong, fulfilling relationship. Two who are equally suspicious are often relieved that the other is well guarded, as this releases each of the responsibility to watch out for/ be sensitive to the feelings of the other.

Difficulties arise when the two people make opposite assumptions; that is, when a trusting person invests heartfelt energy into a discussion with one who (unbeknownst to the trusting person) does not trust or when a well-guarded person begins a conversation, expecting no responsibility, only to be hit with a clarification-seeking, over sharing disaster. On both sides, boundaries are not mutually respected. One feels slighted; the other feels invaded. Neither feels safe.

Trust vs. mistrust becomes the focus. This communication issue is magnified during the holiday season when friends and family members define their relationships in accordance with rules dictated by social obligation. ‘Social obligation’ breeds misery for all involved.

Sincerity vs. Social Obligation

When two people sincerely wish to spend time together, their mutual desire is demonstrated by reaching out, prompt responses, promises kept, and seeking as well as offering clarification to underscore heartfelt interest. Problems arise when either or both believe they ‘should’ meet, based upon social obligation. When people actually want to spend time with each other, the question of trust vs. guarded does not have to surface. Mutual heartfelt desire trumps all.

Success vs. Set Up To Fail

Every family and group of friends has at least one person who

  • May or may not show up at the last minute
  • Offers vague answers, even when specifically asked clear questions
  • Can’t be pinned down for a commitment and, if one is actually made, may or may not be kept
  • Always seems to have an excuse
  • Often states that those who seek clarification are ‘nagging’ or ‘insatiable’
  • Expresses s/he feels burdened by attempts on the part of others to secure a date, time or place to meet
  • Forces others to make assumptions – a dangerous practice for all involved

This individual earns the reputation of ‘untrustworthy’ especially when s/he reserves the right to fault others for any assumptions made. These slippery people offer answers that include, “I’ll make every effort to attend” then, when later asked directly what the plan is, negatively label those who seek a clear answer as they easily pin the ‘lack of meeting’ on anyone else involved.

Be Honest – Avoid ‘Traps’ Especially During the Holiday Season

  • When we extend honest, heartfelt invitations to people with whom we share a mutual feeling of safety – mind, body and spirit, acceptance of that invitation channels positive energy, excitement and joy filled hearts.
  • When we extend ‘social obligation’ invitations to people, they often feel it. Nobody looks forward to the gathering and all attempt to set boundaries to preserve personal safety.
  • When invited by people we really do not feel safe with, as stated above, they generally don’t feel safe with us, either. Our acceptance must include healthy boundary setting in a positive way. Tips: Limit time shared and communicate in advance regarding topics we prefer to not address (i.e. avoiding discussions that flame heat including but not limited to those surrounding sex, religion and politics)

Read the Signals

When inviting guests, watch for these responses so that you can minimize discomfort for all involved:

  • “I’ll have to see. I’ll let you know.” This suggests your invitation is either not a priority or the person has little or no intention of accepting, but can’t find the way to say “No” because of a feeling of social obligation.Your response: If you have thick skin and are very generous of spirit, you may leave the ball in the guest’s court, permitting him/her to later claim “Oh I forgot” or “I tried to reach you but . . .” This guest does not feel safe, for whatever reason, in your presence, so why add pressure? (If the relationship is valuable to you, wait until after the holiday season to pursue, in a neutral location, to see if you can reestablish mutual trust. If not, let it go and move on accepting you are each on separate paths along equally sacred journeys).
  • “My spouse/partner etc. . . . has another obligation. I wish we could accept your invitation but we can’t.” (This response may go either way. It is either a total fabrication – permitting the guest an ‘easy out’ or it is a truthful statement. If it is a fabrication, the guest either fears hurting your feelings, does not trust you enough to tell the truth and/or does not feel safe with you, but feels a degree of social obligation. If it is, in fact, true, then the person will follow-up by reaching out after the holiday to see how the event went. S/he might offer a heartfelt apology and engage in an honest exploration and sharing of thoughts and feelings regarding the holiday, and other items of mutual interest. (Lack of a follow-up call after declining an invitation usually indicates the person is uncomfortable with and/or has no interest in you).

Bottom Line To The Host and Hostess

Knowing how you feel, deeply and honestly, about each guest on your list is an important beginning to a healthy and happy holiday experience. If you have ‘social obligation’ invitations to extend, recognize that those people likely also feel ‘socially obligated’ to accept. Permit them the space, time and distance they require to accept or reject and, if you don’t really want to pursue a deeper relationship with them, just accept their answers, boundaries and excuses without further question.

Bottom Line To the Receiver of Invitations

Knowing how you honestly feel about the host, hostess and/or others on the guest list enhances your positive holiday experience. Accepting invitations to be with those we love is easy. Invitations from people we don’t really know or care about, realizing they feel the same way about us is also met with gracious ease, most of the time.

Difficulties may arise when social obligation further blurs a relationship that is already out of balance – especially when neither person (or only one person) is aware.

If, however, you receive an invitation and believe it is heartfelt, but you prefer not to put time, effort or energy into accepting, and you are not a slave to social obligation, then you might find it natural to decline respectfully offering a sincere plan to get together at a later date (if you so desire). Be prepared to share your reasons for declining the invitation (if you wish to have a deeper than ‘just acquaintance’ relationship).

Thanks for reading this post. I’d love to know if you relate to this and how you assess these points. Are they accurate for you? All comments are welcome. I wish you a healthy, happy, successful holiday season and a wonderful holiday season filled with blessings, healing, rekindling and reawakening.

Where Is “Home” For The Holidays? (Part 1) The Invitations

Holiday time emphasizes all that we have and all that we lack. It is a time of love and sharing. We solidify relationships, self reflect, and put effort and energy into beauty and joy.

Most focus on happiness and good cheer and, while everyone understands that the holiday spirit is dampened when we miss significant loved ones, too many fail to recognize the agony associated with other important, heart wrenching aspects of the season.

Silent Suffering

One example of silent suffering surfaces during the writing of guest lists. The question, “Should I invite my aunt?” may be followed by, “But my mom hates her”  OR  “I can’t wait to see her, but that will upset my dad!”

Another example of silent suffering surfaces when we receive an unwanted or ‘loaded’ invitation. For example, take this scenario: “We received the invitation from the Blah blahs, but I really don’t like the husband. Do we have to accept?”

Extending & receiving  invitations represent two examples of hidden energy sucking distractions that often complicate the spirit of celebration.

Mixed Messages Surrounding the Invitation

Home is where the heart feels safe. We naturally want to be where our mind, body and spirit feel peaceful, comfortable and relaxed. The unstated messages carried within an invitation range from “Do you feel safe with me?” to “I really don’t feel safe with you, but I’m compelled for another reason to extend this invitation.”

Thoughts surrounding acceptance range from, “Oh I can’t wait to catch up and see how they have been doing!” to “How much effort do I really want to put into being around these people?” or “How can I get out of this gracefully?” both paired with the thoughts about our level of comfort with respect to being honest about our feelings.

This might begin to address why accepting, rejecting and extending invitations may be so terribly complex for so many. ‘Social obligation’ is a powerful force and often imposes discomfort on those who prefer not to reveal lack of desire, lack of trust, and/or discomfort with the other party.

Uncomfortably Confused?

In reality, questions, comments and statements are open for interpretation. If the receiver is confused, clarification is sought – that is, if the receiver cares enough to ask. Failure to ask a question suggests any or all of the following on the part of the confused person:

  • Doesn’t want to reveal confusion
  • Doesn’t trust any answer that might be offered
  • Lacks interest in the answer
  • Hopes that lack of clarity will be able to be drawn upon later in an effort to avoid accepting responsibility for whatever the communication was

Redefinition of boundaries might be in order. If relationship goals are mutual, discussion includes honest, truthful clarification of expectations. When this is achieved, the positive energy bond grows stronger between the two who engage in this type of communication. Without clarification and open discussion, future invitations will likely be carefully examined before they are extended or accepted.   (See Part 2 for additional thoughts on this topic)