There’s something about spending time with my family that brings out the worst in me. I arrive all zen-like, filled with intentions of gliding through my time back in my childhood home. But somehow, my 30-something-self gets sucked back into being an angst-ridden adolescent, with the patience of a demon and the monosyllabic vernacular of Kevin the Teenager.
And yet, before I’d arrived it was all going so well. I’d been going through a good stretch, with minor blips of anxiety and ‘out-of-sortness’, but with my new found best friend of radical acceptance, it was always short lived and life soon got back to normal again.
But there’s something about being in the family home that pulls the rug from underneath my semi-enlightened feet. Or in the words of spiritual teacher Ram Dass:
Think you’re enlightened? Spend a week with your family
For one there’s the delicate dance of fitting into parents’ well-furrowed routines. In my house that means hour upon hour of telly watching in the evening. In my own home I barely turn on the TV, and after the first couple of hours of soap opera followed by Reality TV, I literally feel my good vibes evaporate and boredom starts to seep in.
And speaking personally, boredom is like a ticking time bomb for my anxiety. My mind starts to get all circular, obsessing about how I can feel uncomfortable feelings arising. Then the guilt starts. Why can’t I just zone out watching TV like other people do with their families? Why am I the only one incapable of relaxing?
And then the withdrawal starts. I can literally feel myself losing the ability to interact like a human being, preferring to nod and grunt in agreement.
So what to do?
I think as ever acceptance is key. Fighting with oneself never leads anywhere helpful. In this instance, it’s accepting that you are spending some time in a place where your normal activities have been suspended and you must adapt to the rhythm of others. Accept that being here brings up uncomfortable emotions and try not to identify with them
2. Remember impermanence
Impermanence has a multi-pronged use for me when I’m back at home and falling into the funk. I remember both that I won’t feel like this forever, nor will my parents be here forever. Everything is fleeting and impermanent, which usually brings me back with a jolt to the here and now.
3. Observe your stories
When I come home I’m always looking for signs to support the story I have that I’m a disappointment to my parents. While there could be a grain of truth in it, most of it is in my head. And even if it were true, it wouldn’t matter anyway, because our parents’ disappointment is beyond our control and mostly comes out of their overwhelming desire for us to be happy. So observe what stories play out in your head, try not to act on them and be open to the possibility that a new way is possible.
4. Be kind to yourself
In buddhism an analogy that is used is that of the second arrow. The first arrow is the initial painful event and the second arrow refers to how we choose to react to it. In my case, if I’m feeling anxious or miserable, I then tend to judge myself and feel guilty. That is the second arrow and is actually the one that causes the most distress. So once again it all comes back to acceptance and self compassion.
5. Get some boundaries
Whatever it is that keeps you on the straight and narrow, don’t let it completely slide when back at home. Be it exercise, yoga, meditation, dancing or whatever – try to factor it into your stay, even if your family thinks you’re crazy for doing it.