just pretend you're asleep

just pretend you’re asleep

That wonderful Martha Beck has some sanity-saving strategies to pull you through not-so-silent nights and days with the family.

Martha compares the Uncle Remus story of tar baby, when Brer Rabbit picks a fight with a lifelike doll made out of tar and turpentine. The tar baby is so gluey that when the rabbit punches it, his fists get hopelessly stuck. He tries to kick his way free, trapping his feet, then finishes off with an infuriated head butt that renders him utterly helpless.

Martha’s wisdom on this? She can’t think of a more fitting metaphor for family life in the 21st century. There’s nothing in the world as sticky as a dysfunctional family.

Read the first part by clicking the link and then you can move on down to Stragety #3. You’ll LOVE dysfunctional family bingo!  http://www.coolmona.com/5-ways-to-survive-your-next-family-gathering/

Strategy #3: Lose control.

You’re in the middle of a holiday feast, your favorite pie and eggnog, when your mother leans over and whispers, “Honey, have you tried Weight Watchers?”

Those 6 words may wither your very soul, challenging every ounce of self-acceptance you’ve gleaned from  myriad self-help books, support groups and several enlightened friends. You might feel desperate to make Mom recognize all the hard-won truths you’ve learned about the intrinsic value and beauty of your body. You’ll want to argue, to explain, to get right in there and force your mother to approve of your appearance. You are coming perilously close to whacking the tar baby.

Remember this: Any attempt you make to control other people actually puts you under their control.

If you decide you can’t be happy until your mother finally understands you, her dysfunction will rule your life. You could spend the next 20 years trying to please her so much that she’d just have to accept you – and she still might not. Or you could hold her at gunpoint and threaten her into saying the words you want to hear but you’ll never control her real thoughts and feelings. Never.

The only way you can avoid getting stuck in other people’s craziness is to follow codependency author Melody Beatty’s counterintuitive advice: “Unhook from their systems by refusing to try to control them.”

Don’t violate your own code of ethics and values but don’t waste energy trying to make other people violate theirs. If soul searching has shown you that your mother’s opinions are wrong for you – as are your grandfather’s bigotry, your sister’s new religion and your cousin’s alcoholism – hold that truth in your heart, whether or not your family members validate it. Feel what you feel, know what you know and set your relatives free to do the same. 

If you’ve been deeply wounded by your family, you can stop trying to control them by accepting full responsibility for your healing. I’m not suggesting you shoulder all the blame, but rather that you acknowledge that you and only you have the ability to respond to injury by seeking cures instead of furthering pain. Whatever the situation, accepting that you can control only your own thoughts and actions will help you mend more quickly and thoroughly.

Strategy #4: Become A Participant Observer

Some social scientists use a technique called participant observation, meaning that they join groups of people in order to watch and report on whatever those people do. People I might have normally avoided – criminals, fundamentalists, PTA presidents – became absolutely fascinating when I was participant observing them. Almost any group activity is interesting when you plan to describe it later to someone who’s on your wavelength. Here are some approaches to help you become a participant observer of your own family.

Queen For A Day

This little game is based on the old tv show where four women competed to see who had the most miserable life. The contestant judged most pathetic got, among other things, a washing machine to clean her tear-stained clothing. My version goes like this: Prior to a family function, plan to meet with at least 2 friends after the holidays. You’ll each tell the stories of your respective family get-togethers, then vote to see whose experience was most horrendous. That person will then be crowned queen and the others will buy her lunch.

Comedy Club

n this exercise, you look to your family not for love and understanding but for comedy material. Look closely. The more atrocious your family’s behavior is, the funnier it can be in the retelling. Watch stand-up comics to see the enormous fun they can have describing appalling marriages, ghastly parenting or poisonous family secrets. When you’re back among friends, telling your own wild stories, you may find that you no  longer suffer from your family’s brand of insanity; you’ve actually started to enjoy it.

Dysfunctional Family Bingo

One of my fave games but it takes some prep. A few weeks before the holidays, gather with some friends and provide blank bingo cards. Each player fills in her bingo squares with  dysfunctional phrases, words or actions that are likely to surface at her particular family party. Example: For the inevitable “When are you going to get married?” that question goes in square one of your bingo card. If your bro shows up crocked to the gills, “drunk Al” in the next square and so on.

Take your cards to your respected family gatherings. When you observe something on your bingo card, mark off that square. The first person to get bingo must sneak off and text the other players and announce her victory. If no one has a full bingo, the one with the card of the most filled-in squares wins the game. The winner is determined at the post-holiday meeting where she will be granted the ever-gratifying free lunch.

Strategy #5: Debrief

It’s crucial to follow up with someone you love. If your bro really gets you, then call him after a family dinner you’ve both survived. If you don’t trust anyone you share a shred of DNA with, report to a friend or therapist. You can schedule a debriefing several weeks after the holidays but even better is to connect via email or text immediately after the event.

All of these strategies, from relinquishing hope of transformation to mimicking your relatives in riotous conversations with your friends are designed to help you love your family unconditionally, in whatever way works best for you. They help you greet the tar baby with genuine affection then walk away clear and happy. And that, in the end, may be the best holiday present you’ll ever give to the people you cherish most.

Cool Mona Note: We can do this, baby!  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Vrv9slgO7Ic