So often I hear the groans from those who anticipate the family conflicts along with the good cheer during the holiday season.  The person gets a bit round-shouldered anticipating Uncle Benny’s insults or Aunt Harriet’s complaints about the new beard or the new tattoo.

From the files of Forgiveness Therapy come 4 tips to help overcome the fear and the build-up of resentments that so routinely occur:

1. Before the holiday gathering, commit within your own mind and heart to do no harm to Uncle Benny or Aunt Harriet no matter what they say or do.  This does not mean that you refuse to stand up for yourself. 

It does not mean that you refuse to ask for fairness, but it does mean that you refuse to be mean in return.  “Do no harm” requires great courage and patience.  It is worth the effort so that you do not engage in an incessant exchange of acrimony.

2. Before you meet, start doing some of the work of forgiveness.  See Uncle Benny and Aunt Harriet as fully human.  Aren’t we all special, unique, and irreplaceable.....even the uncle and aunt?  If all persons have worth, then so too do those who insult you and complain about your current life-style choices.

3. Before asking the relatives to pass the mashed potatoes, try to see their own pain, the unseen pain, the forgotten pain from perhaps years ago.  Uncle Benny’s insults do not necessarily emerge spontaneously from some unknown cause.  Was he insulted by one of his relatives years ago?  Did he grow up with a self-image that was more in the gutter than on solid ground?  Was he hurt, and then nurtured the hurt, and then became angry, and now he expresses this directly to you?  Who, then, is Uncle Harry?  Is he a holiday ogre or a wounded and even lonely person?

4.  If you can, try to converse with Uncle Harry and Aunt Harriet with civility and love and a comforting smile.  For this kind of interaction, please know that it takes great inner strength.  If you can converse in this way, and be genuinely interested in them as persons, what does this tell you about who you are as a person?  Does this show you that you, too, are a person of great worth, one who does no harm, who tries through your own pain, to see the pain in others, who strives to bind wounds rather than create them?  You, I hope you see, can give the gift of forgiveness when others, even if unconsciously, offer discontent, discord, and division.  You, I hope you see, are stronger than you thought you were.  You are a conduit of good in the family.

The lessons from Forgiveness Therapy may result in unexpected insights and perhaps even joy as you anticipate the family gathering.

You are reading

The Forgiving Life

Is Your Family a Forgiving Community?

Some suggestions for fostering forgiveness in your family.

On Being Treated Unfairly: Don’t Let Them Win Twice!

Forgiveness Stops the Hurt So the "Bad Guys" Don't Defeat You

Power: Five Non-Traditional Views

Which form do you use: Power-over others or power-for others?