At the beginning of 2016 I had a goal: to be grateful and loving towards my in-laws. On one hand, they’ve done so much for me that I feel very guilty and like I’m a terrible person to not feel grateful. On the other hand, they do things that bother so much that most of the time all I can feel towards them is anger and resentment. In spite of my new year resolution, things got a lot worse before they returned, only recently, to some stability.
External circumstances have not changed, but I’d like to say that I have. I learned a new practice this year, and all the conflicts and fights I’ve had with them have at least shaken the foundations for all of us. It is my observation mixed with hope that we are now open to learning to approach each other differently, with more respect and boundaries.
The new thing* I did that helped me through the turbulent year was this: I acknowledge my emotions as valid and I try to spend time in the discomfort of my emotions. For example, it used to be that if I’m mad at someone, the first thing I did was to give them the benefit of the doubt, try to justify their actions, and then end up telling myself off as being “too sensitive”, “too private”, “too thin-skinned”, “think too much”, “so ungrateful”. The same goes for people asking me and persuading me to do something I don’t really want. I’ve tried so hard to be good most of my life that I forgot that my anger and my wishes are valid too.
Writing is a good tool for replaying, remembering and reviewing an incident. I find that I could pinpoint the comment or action that caused things to go south. I write and re-write for long enough and I can see what I did or didn’t do that made things worse for me or for others. Then I can brainstorm possible alternatives. This process takes time and can be very uncomfortable, especially when you realize you have responsibility over the incident, and that you weren’t being your best self either. But through it, you stop taking all the blame, you stop blaming it all on the other person, and you end up feeling like you know what can be done about it. Not that the relationship becomes a smooth sail right away, because we can get overpowered by emotions and feed off negative energy from each other, but regaining the sense of responsibility and authorship of how you behave is empowering and allows you to go on.
Now at the end of the year, I’ll allow myself to make a few good comments about my in-laws. I can see that they give me chances. After every fight we have, they always act and talk normally with me the next day, as I do with them. We don’t do that thing where people don’t speak to each other for days after they fight. They have, regardless of the crass ways I communicated myself and tried to set boundaries, made efforts to change and be more sensitive to me.
This likely will continue to be a difficult relationship, and this year I will no longer demand myself the big task of being grateful and loving towards them. I will continue to work on setting boundaries and speaking up. For them, I ask myself to acknowledge the ways in which they help me, and say thank you when it’s due.
*That new thing that I started doing is basically the Rising Strong process, as I was reading about it at the beginning of the year. See Dr. Brene Brown’s book, Rising Strong.