By Maureen McKane, LCSW
Separate your own mind-state from the chaos and you can find a pool of calm.
My friends, I’ll call the Willises, have so many people in the house that three of them carry the same first name. I like visiting them. Whatever is going on, and something always is, there is a love and a laugh attached to every calamity. Trips to the ER make funny stories. Disagreements are turned into survival feats. The best thing about the Willises is the way they laugh at themselves.
In a big family, you are either contributing to anxiety or you are a force for calm. There is no neutral position, because each person (and pet) influences everyone else. Trouble comes when someone is blaming someone. Sometimes it reduces to everyone blaming the same someone. If you want to find peace, be a good guy in the story. Start by dumping the blame and addressing your own part in the general noise.
Try these strategies:
- Toss out these thoughts:
- I’d be OK if So-and-So would act differently!
- I didn’t sign up for this!
- I can’t stand it!
- Learn to observe your breathing. When it is rapid, take a long inhale, counting to 4, stop, then exhale, counting 5. Repeat. Notice that you can change the pace intentionally. Slow it down in this way when everyone around you is breathing fast.
- Notice when you take things personally. The chaos is natural. The more players there are, the more noise. It isn’t about you.
- Learn to laugh. Stand-up comics have a knack for turning tragic absurdities into humor. All that noise around you is absurd. See it the way an alien would and laugh.
- Respect the need for private spaces. Every person in your family needs some separate space and time to settle down. Start with yourself, then your spouse, then each other person in the household. Ask each, one by one, to tell one way they can find peace for little spaces of time. Make it a priority to respect each other’s privacy.
- Set your mind in the right groove. Do this each day, before you come in the door from being away. Whether you’ve come from work or the grocery, stop and think these thoughts: I can remember the sound of quiet; I will recall a quiet time now, for 60 seconds; I will take it inside like a path through the jungle of noise.
All these strategies come out of one idea. The key to getting along in families is to be a separate person in your mind. Someone else is angry. They have that right. You are not required to be angry in response. Someone else is afraid, you can be not afraid. On auto-pilot we absorb another’s emotions and mimic them. Turn off the auto-pilot and pay attention.
Instead of reacting, stop and think. Figure out why you do what you do. Don’t figure out the other person. Just know they have their reasons. Then you can contribute a breath of calm in the face of turmoil. Then you can be one of the good guys in the family story.