Family, Confrontation, and the Magic of Questions

December 24, 2016
Reading time: 3 minutes
Kindness, Relationships, Self Improvement


This weekend marks the beginning of Chanukah, a time of year that the “Gates of Heaven” are wide open to us all. We are given 8 days to reflect on miracles, to reflect on the Light in our lives, and to revel in the magic of life. For many of us, it is also a time in which we are challenged, frustrated, and overwhelmed. Miracles aren’t always wrapped in beautiful bows and there is no better example of this than time spent with family. To quote the famous mystic Ram Dass, “If you think you’re enlightened, spend a week with your family”.

What I believe he meant by that is that our family brings forward most of opportunities for growth, by showing us where we are still triggered. Our families are perfect mirrors for us, serving up tailor made concoctions of challenge, and when is our time with family more saturated than during the holidays? Most of us a have a few difficult relationships within our family systems that always seem to push our buttons in just the right way. The uncle that is always vocalizing his hateful worldview. The parent whose passive aggression seems to be getting less and less passive. The sibling that judges every one of your life choices. 

These circumstances can always feel like ‘damned if you, damned if you don’t’ territory. For example, if you spend time creating a big, beautiful dish for the family dinner, Aunt Sara criticizes you for being a show-off. If you choose to bring something more modest or nothing at all, she criticizes your busy schedule, or your lack of consideration, and so on. As a result, we either sheepishly agree to the negativity or adopt our own passive aggressive way of defying the criticism. 

Perhaps there is that one cousin that always love to talk trash about everyone else. They pull you aside and begin to whisper and eye roll and you’re stuck wondering how to respond. If you refuse to engage in the gossip, the guilty party will explode at you or start talking about you behind your back. If you go along with it, you will have transgressed upon your own better judgement. So you’re stuck feeling uncomfortable, unsure of what to do, and just waiting for it to be over!

Sound familiar? It’s probably because this is universal. We all experience difficulty with family, making this time of year a time for us all to practice spiritual confrontation. A time to transmute the energy we spend outside of ourselves, into awareness that is directed inward. When faced with a hard or painful family member or situation, how are we responding? What are we doing? More importantly, what are we saying? The kabbalists explain that lashon hara – evil speech – is the worst form of darkness there is. Evil speech is more than just speaking negatively about someone else, it includes those times when we say things in anger and even when we talk about ourselves negatively. Spiritual confrontation moves us away from these negative tendencies and their spirals and, luckily, it is very simple.

Let’s go back to Aunt Sara. You arrive with the dish you prepared, you’re extremely proud of it and even excited to partake, when she makes a judgmental comment. In this moment, instead of an impulsive response or reaction, notice the feelings that peak. Sit with it a moment and when you’re ready, ask a question, free of judgement or anger. If Aunt Sara half-jokingly calls you a show-off or criticizes you for being too busy, all you have to do is ask “Why do you think that?” When your cousin starts in on the gossip, ask her “How are you doing?” By asking questions, you invite them into awareness also. 

Remember, nearly every time someone does something that hurts you, when they lash out, or when they say something that makes you feel insecure or unworthy, it’s a manifestation of their own pain. It has very little to do with you, other than you happened to be in their proximity at the time. Everyone is fighting their own battles and conflicts will arise. Just remember, it’s really not about you, it’s about them. While you can learn something from the experience you do not need to accept their judgments as facts.

It is important to first be aware of all types of provocation during this time. The holidays are so wonderful because they’re heightened, but they heighten everything, including emotions. Because things are going to come right at you, it’s important to be aware of the uncompromising challenges. To be aware of the invitation to remain open, to not be reactive and impulsive, but inquisitive. Take your time to sit with what may feel like potential antagonism and hostility, but don’t get caught up in it. Pull back and hold true to your awareness and proactivity. It’s not coming AT you, it’s happening for you, giving you yet another opportunity to be loving to yourself and to bring Light to those around you. 

Thought into Action

Practice spiritual confrontation. Imagine a instance when you felt reactive with a family member. Bring this person and the emotion into your mind’s eye and observe it and come up with questions you could ask instead of judgements.

Recommended Posts

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *