“Let’s create vision boards to set our intentions for the New Year”, my wife said. I grimaced and thought to myself, ‘This doesn’t work for me, seems silly.’ Over the course of the next hour, I stomped around the house stewing in my self-righteousness. While attempting to explain my sour attitude, I emotionally vomited all over my kids and my wife, almost destroying a very creative and kind activity meant to bring us together as a family. I fell into a well that I could not see; a blind spot(s) that brought me to a dark, dangerous place. My voice quivered and my belly tightened. I was hooked.
Digging out from this display was not pretty. It took several hours of unpacking later that night to own what was mine and take responsibility for it as well as express what was brewing underneath. Navigating the tensions and riding the waves with my wife and family helped me to explore the scary territory of the situation. And I discovered and treated wounds lurking in the corners as a result. Most of all, it affirmed the power of bringing personal demons into the bright light of family life.
A wise teacher of mine once said, “Don’t ask me how you are doing, ask your family.” You can take 360 evaluations at work, go on personal retreats, or fill out one of countless self assessment questionnaires. But if you really want to dive in and uncover your progress, there is no better place to get real time feedback than with those to whom we are closest. The reason this is such rich medicine is that we tend to let our guards down and open ourselves emotionally. The usual walls that separate our public and private lives become more porous. We are vulnerable. Vulnerability creates the opportunity for sacred ground to do deeper personal and interpersonal work.
Disclaimer: Exposing and exploring emotional demons with family, either by blood or by choice, can be challenging, especially for those with histories of trauma or abuse. So please be advised to take care when deciding who you will practice with. Here are some suggestions if you choose to move forward.
- Safety: First and foremost, ensure your safety when venturing into this work. If you have reason to fear for your physical or emotional safety, you will not take down your guard, nor should you! When the going becomes too much, take a break or chose not to continue.
- Support: Make sure that you are in a place where people have your best interest at heart. A close group of friends can be a good place to start this work because they may be more able to stand with you while not venturing too strongly into their own dark places.
- Noticing: As you push off into the wilds of family interactions, pay very close attention to your body and emotions. It takes diligent practice to watch without falling too far into the abyss. Feel the sensations and where they take place. Note the intensity, pulse, or vibration of energy as the emotions crest. Are there any words that turn up the intensity? Do certain phrases or stories start to play more loudly in the mind?
- Sharing: Once you notice, there is an opportunity to name what is happening for you. This can either be done with yourself or out loud with a family member or friend. Some places to start– “I notice that the story I am telling myself is…” “When you say… my stomach starts to tighten” “I am feeling very angry (sad) (afraid) and need to just pause for a bit.” Writing these things down can be very helpful. Take a look at the patterns and past encounters that show up.
- Grace space: Remember that this is hard work. Going slowly and being patient with yourself allows what can be called ‘grace space.’ Grace space provides ease and balance to roam around a bit while not needing concrete answers. You are carefully exploring new, unchartered territory. Grace does not mean tidy or clean. Exploring is, almost by necessity, messy.