How are your family relations? Is your family a haven of support and love, or do you avoid seeing them as much as possible?
Do you feel warm and fuzzy as you think about them, or is “family” a 6-letter swear word to you?
If your family relations are less than ideal, you’re not alone; family members have that uncanny ability to push your hot buttons.
Their extraordinary ability to trigger you (and make you feel like a 5-year old) is because you have a whole lot of B.S. (limiting belief systems, that is) from growing up in the same family.
That B.S. is largely a result of your childhood programming, the role modeling of your same-sex parent especially, significant emotional events (particularly adversity), and your environment as you were growing up.
This is part of your identity, your unconscious operating system which is running the show 99% of the time.
Your family is so good at pushing your hot buttons because they are part of your story and operating system. When you add in emotionally charged times like holidays, you have a recipe for a perfect storm of triggers and outbursts.
Wouldn’t it be wonderful if you could wave a magic wand and change your family into the one you always wanted?
The bad news is that you can never change someone else, no matter how hard you try.
The good news is that there are 13 powerful ways you can change yourself to make family life more enjoyable and fulfilling. It all starts with awareness of your triggers and patterns.
You know, those little things your family says or does that just set your temper off or start your tears flowing.
It might be criticism or being blamed for something. You might feel like you can never do anything right.
Perhaps it’s hearing all about your brother’s recent successes while everyone ignores yours.
It could be body shaming as someone comments that you’ve put on weight.
Or maybe the trigger is something huge and you dread it every time you’re supposed to head home for the holidays. Perhaps someone drinks too much, or the same old arguments start all over again.
The key is to recognize what your hot buttons are, first and foremost. Be curious, and think back over the years of interactions.
Take the time to write these down, and then move on to the next awareness exercise.
These hot buttons–or hairpin triggers–are a result of patterns you have set up to deal with each situation, based on your programming.
Some common patterns in family relationships are:
As the victim, you unknowingly seek sympathy or attention through your problems.
The Black Sheep
Like a child acting out, you’re looking for negative attention since it is better than none at all.
Other family members often look to you to be the peacemaker, the one to keep everyone together and getting along.
The Successful Perfectionist
As the successful perfectionist, you feel like you have to be perfect if you’re going to show up at all. And, much like the victim, you need to tell the story of how stressed you are.
The Escape Artist
As the escape artist, you’re being passive aggressive –showing up physically, if at all, but not emotionally.
Eckhart Tolle refers to these as ego patterns, your sense of self that sets you apart. Rod Hairston refers to these as Deception Patterns, in that your unconscious mind is deceiving you into staying in what it perceives as a safe if unwanted, state.
Without judging yourself, be curious and allow the answers to flow out of you. Often the first thoughts or emotions which come to mind are the best, even if they don’t make sense to you at the time.
Where are these patterns playing out in the rest of your life?
Once a pattern has been created in one area of your life, it usually shows up in other areas of your life.
Awareness of how these patterns are playing out in all areas of your life also gives you a great indicator that the common denominator truly is you, even if you’d like to blame everyone and everything else, as humans love to do.
Take the time to honestly examine where these patterns are playing out in your family, your other relationships, and your life in general.
Successful change requires the courage to ask–and answer–the hard questions.
And again, know there is no right or wrong pattern. The key is to be aware of how it is operating in your life. Then you can decide if the pattern is still serving you in who you want to be in your relationships.
If you are unhappy with a situation, you always have choice and control:
As Eckhart Tolle states, “The primary cause of unhappiness is never the situation but your thoughts about it … Separate [your thoughts] from the situation, which is always neutral … Facing facts is always empowering. Be aware that what you think, to a large extent, creates the emotions that you feel.”
Rod Hairston states that you have 5 super abilities which set you up for successful change:
Response-ability: you may not be able to change the past, and you do have the ability to change how you respond.
This is the key that victims miss. They believe that they have been dealt a bad hand, that they have been clobbered by life, and they have given up their ability to choose how to think and feel about how those experiences are impacting them.
You have the responsibility to decide what you want your life to look like.
You have the responsibility to decide how much or how little you are going to let your past experiences impact the life and the relationships you want.
Accountability: you may have the worst family in the world and had a horrible upbringing, and yet you are accountable to show up for your own life and make what you want of it.
Once you decide what life you want to have, it is up to you to follow through, knowing you have the capability to make the change.
Capability: you have it within you to make the changes you want to see, if only in your responses and reactions.
Vulnerability: the courage to own that you are not perfect yourself, and asking how you can change to make the relationship better. As Eckhart Tolle says, “Anything you resent and strongly react to in another is also in you.” Be open and grateful that you now have an opportunity to release these patterns and change.
Flexibility: there are going to be times when life and your relationships throw curveballs at you; you and your responses are the only things you have control over.
Flexibility is going with the flow, knowing you’re going to be able to manage the situation in a healthy way, no matter what happens.
All too often, you are unhappy with how your relationships and life are right now, and yet you truly don’t have a handle on what would make you happy. Instead, you phrase it in negative terms of what you don’t want.
It’s time to craft a new positive vision as to what you’d like your relationships to be like in every area of your life, especially those with your family. You need to give your unconscious mind a new GPS destination so that it quits homing in on the old one (whether you were aware of it or not).
This way, you get crystal clear with what you DO want rather than what you DON’T want. The 4 Laws of Focus state that what you focus on you find more and more until it becomes your perceived reality and then your identity.
If you focus on not wanting your family to criticize you, they’re going to keep doing it more and more, until you feel that all they do is criticize you and that you can’t do anything right. And yes, this also plays into your response-ability in creating your new life (see #3).
In your vision, be sure to include your family values which are the most important to you, so that you set a vision that is congruent with who you want to be and the life you want to have.
For instance, I would not recommend creating a vision in which you state that you are seeing your family daily if a core value is freedom and traveling for extended periods. Instead, you might want to envision that you have a fun, loving, supportive relationship with your family and that you spend quality time together fostering a strong unbreakable bond.
You may not be able to change what has happened physically in your past. However, you can rewrite your memory of what happened.
I see your look of confusion.
Your memories are housed in your unconscious mind. Your unconscious mind is your operating system which runs the show, based on your programming, your memories, and the identity you have developed. It truly is amazing at the job it does keeping you alive and safe.
Your unconscious mind’s Achilles heel is that it can’t tell the difference between what is real and what is imagined. This is why you can so effectively visualize your desired future as set out in your vision (see #4). This is why you can also decide to tell a different story of your experiences–the story the way you wanted it.
The primary principle of neuroplasticity states that “Neurons that wire together fire together.” This means that, with repetition, a temporary nerve connection becomes hardwired into your operating system.
When you repeat your desired life story over and over, you feel better about yourself as you put into action your 5 abilities (see #3). You are also rewriting the programming you grew up with, changing your identity and releasing the need for your old patterns.
These old patterns may have kept you safe and sound back then and are now just hampering your desired vision and relationships.
The #1 reason why you have hot buttons at all is because you have a little child inside of you who is wounded from past experiences. That little child is crying out for love and recognition.
So it’s time to give all of the love and recognition you have always craved to yourself–your inner child.
Keep an open mind because this works. How?
Most of the time you look in a mirror and immediately find fault with yourself in some way.
And that is just perpetuating and reinforcing your negative self-image and low esteem.
Instead, look at yourself and say positive and empowering phrases.
Your unconscious mind, AKA your inner child, perceives through your visual and auditory senses simply that someone (who looks a lot like your adult parent) is looking at you saying those wonderful things.
Find a mirror, look yourself in the eyes, and say what you would to your own child:
“I love you.”
“I’m proud of you!”
“Thank you for choosing me to be your parent, your guide, your mentor, your friend on this life journey.”
“You are so talented!”
“You ARE a genius.”
Say what you always wished your family had said to you. Give that love and praise to yourself.
And if you’re not saying that to your children, start.
Otherwise, you are unknowingly perpetuating the same programming you grew up with, as did your parents, and so on.
Lather, rinse and repeat as often as you possibly can. I definitely recommend it every time you look in a mirror.
Even if you feel you can’t say it out loud or take time to do the full exercise, take a moment to look into your eyes, smile, and say to yourself, “Hey beautiful!”
If you’re not near a mirror, repeat the exercise by thinking, saying, or writing down positive affirmations and self-loving statements.
Remember, neurons that wire together fire together. The more frequently you can do this exercise, the faster your neural pathways will hardwire to a more positive loving perception of yourself. Bit by bit, your hot buttons will become warm buttons then finally disappear altogether.
You’ll be totally surprised that your family just can’t get under your skin as they did in the past.
The next step in making yourself bulletproof is your self-care.
Have you noticed that you’re more easily triggered when you’re sick, tired, hungry, or dehydrated?
These physical stressors lower your tolerance to further emotional or mental stress.
So if you’re burning the candle at both ends, eating poorly, or not drinking enough water (and not the alcoholic variety), you’re setting up the perfect cocktail of stresses and hot buttons to trigger a major storm of outburst and anguish.
The remedy is simple. Make sure you consistently get 7-8 hours of good quality sleep per night. Drink enough water for your size. Eat nutrient dense meals. Exercise even lightly every day.
And create other healthy coping habits and rituals to get you through the trying times.
No matter how great you are at following these first eight steps, life happens. There may come a time when the situation heads south despite your best efforts and intentions. Creating healthy coping habits will help you thrive through those times.
I have a friend, Leslie, who drinks herself silly every holiday she has to spend with her mother-in-law, just so that she can tolerate her mother-in-law’s barbs and eccentricities.
For weeks leading up to each event, she is already dwelling on the upcoming unpleasantries and rehashing other memorable stories to bolster why she feels this way.
And yet, the 4 Laws of Focus state that what she focuses on, she finds.
To help Leslie find healthier and more successful ways to cope, I helped her work through exercises #1-8.
She identified her hot buttons and triggers with respect to her mother-in-law and her life in general.
She acknowledged, painfully, that she had taken on the role of victim–that she could do no right for her mother-in-law, and that she deserved a medal for putting up with her. It had spilled over into her relationship with her husband, coloring that one negatively as well.
Leslie acknowledged that she didn’t want to leave her husband, and didn’t want to hurt his feelings by not attending with him. She also realized that she could no longer tolerate being the victim, not to mention the strain it was putting on her marriage–and liver.
She needed to change.
She used a vulnerability to see where she had unknowingly triggered or aggravated the events and took responsibility for her own actions and responses.
Leslie chose to be flexible in future encounters, knowing she had the capability to move through each experience with flying colors.
She held herself accountable for releasing the victim pattern and showing up as the person she wanted to be.
She wrote out a vision of the relationship and experience she wanted. She then rewrote the history of past experiences. And she visualized both often to change her operating system around this area of life.
She recognized that her mother-in-law was able to trigger her because of her own feelings of low self-love and value, so she did the mirror exercise repetitively to improve her self-image and love.
She understood the need to take care of herself physically and started implementing changes to improve her health and well-being.
We then moved the focus to ways in which she could manage herself successfully in future scenarios.
Leslie created her Plan B in case things started to spiral out of control–and she shared these with her husband so that he could be supportive. For instance, Leslie knew she could remove herself from the situation by leaving the room or the house and going for a walk.
You can do the same with those really trying relationships that just make you cringe or want to run away.
It’s time to take control of your family relationships — by changing yourself and your mindset. Are you ready to make the choice?