Sunday, December 5, 2010

Trimming Your Christmas THREE!

As much as we may want to visit with family at the holidays (or just feel obligated to), many of us are weighed down with family drama. We feel heavy with the fear of unresolved conflicts being triggered, old wounds reopening, and multiple miscommunications devolving into emotional chaos.

Just as you might trim your waistline before summer, so, too should you trim your family drama before the end of year holidays. For swimsuit dieters, there are quick, easy and even healthy ways to achieve this trimming (such as The Southbeach Diet). For those of us carrying around a few extra pounds of family drama, there’s a surefire way to trim down as well - before getting caught in the “Hell”-iday flames.

The technique I’m about to share with you is simple as One, Two and….well, forget about Three. That’s it actually. That’s the whole technique. Drop the number three from all your family interactions in the days leading up to your family gathering. In other words, “three’s a crowd” and so don’t talk to anyone in your family about any other member of your family. At All. Under no circumstances. Keep all contact one-on-one.

Stick to this rule and just like abstaining from carbs will trim down your body in two weeks,trimming three from your family relationships will reduce your load of “dirty laundry” in the same amount of time. Keep it up between now and New Year’s Day, and you will coast through the holidays like Santa on a sleigh – minus the heavy load. I realize that this is easier blogged than done, but I promise you will see results if you are disciplined.

This means that if a family member calls you up to complain about a prehistoric argument with another family member, change the subject. Keep the subject of the dialogue positive, and only on you and the other person, not anyone else in the family. This may result in yourtriangulating relative (TR) to feel rejected. Kindly remind TR that you are very interested in them and their life, but that you simply do not wish to discuss the relative they have beef with – instead you’d rather hear what’s going on with them. Your conversations may become much shorter than ever before, and this is ok too. As long as the conversations are positive and dyadic (only focused on you and that other person) you’re good.

After trying this (for at least a week), you can help yourself even more by proactively contacting relatives you will see at an upcoming gathering, but are used to only being in touch with through someone else. Again, these may be short exchanges, but at least they will be positive, and you will have made a direct connection, thereby avoiding any preemptive fanning of “Hell”-iday flames. By doing this, you may also even create an unexpected firewall for yourself, if and when family drama erupts.

By the time you arrive at your event, you will already be familiar with how to have brief, positive encounters with each person present. Everyone will know that you’re not the person to confide in regarding their smoldering feelings about others present, and since you haven’t talked about anyone behind their backs, you can enjoy the levity of having nothing to hide.

Leave the number three to 1) the three blessings while lighting your menorah (for Hanukkah), 2) lighting the three candles of hope/ and the three candles of struggle (for Kwanzaa), or 3) for setting up the three wise men in your nativity (for Christmas); but trim the number three from your family tree.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

AutoNOmy vs. AutonomYES

Finding mutual satisfaction in relationships (be they romantic, familial, professional, etc.) is often a tough and awkward dance. We take lumbering steps trying to satisfy both our own needs, as well as those of the other person. To make things easier, some of us take the lead in this dance, thereby saying, “No” to the other person – which is only satisfying until we become bored, lonely, or resentful in this role, (or until the other party revolts). Some of us assume a passive, accommodating role and say, “No” to ourselves –until we start to feel suffocated or invisible (perhaps causing us to revolt). What we all generally share is a faulty belief; that in order for a relationship to work smoothly, someone must completely surrender his or her autonomy.

The “On Demand” culture we live in certainly doesn’t help us to resolve this dilemma. We regularly try to take the lead in our relationship to entertainment, as we flip through channels, DVR, Pay-per-View, don’t Pay-Per-View (a la Netflix On Demand)….until we realize that we are actually disappointingly passive in this relationship and stop the program, defiantly start another, say “No”, “No”, “Next”, “Next” (they should really call it “Next-Flix”), all in search of the perfect, most pleasurable entertainment. We are a culture of consumers, constantly battling for autonomy (I could write another piece entirely on the topic of our dependence on bad entertainment, and the importance of creating more of our own art, but for now we’re talking about relationships).

We look at our relationships this way as well, as consumers as opposed to creators. For example, we say things like, “I want a girl who listens to me”, “I want a guy who’s tough”, “She’s too assertive”, “He lacks drive”. We say a lot of “No” on our quest for the perfect “dance partner”, trying to take charge of this audition process and continuing to feel passive discontent. We rarely consider that rather than waiting around for the perfect match, we have the power to actively engage in this process of getting along – for some this means offering more of our opinions and feelings, for others this means being open to listening and discovering alternative perspectives to our own. We often fail to see that being autonomous in a relationship doesn’t have to be about consumption, it can be about creating new possibilities, for you and the other party involved.
The first rule of acting in improvisation is to never say “No” while performing a scene. You can say ‘Yes, and…….” or “Yes, but…..”, but it is never an option to say “No”. We can consider using this rule in our relationships. If something doesn’t feel quite right when we’re engaging with another person, before we say “No” and change the channel, consider that we often have more power than we think to create a more agreeable reality for both parties. We don’t have to shut ourselves down in order to maintain a relationship and we don’t have to shut the other person down in order to be autonomous. Be a creator in your relationships. Say, “Yes, and….”, or “Yes, but…”, but saying, “No”, will only leave you feeling discontent.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Tell, Don't Show!

“Show, don’t tell”. These magic words are often used to remind artists not to over-think their work, and instead to work from a playful, creative (arguably regressed), place. Screen actors in particular benefit from this advice, as their job is not to use fully articulated, eloquent bits of text in order to make a crystalline point – the way a character in a stage play written by Shakespeare, Shaw or Stoppard might - but instead to indulge in the mysterious drives and emotions that lie between the lines, in other words to “act out”.

Many of us are guilty of regularly “acting out” in our lives - here are a few examples; 1) Ignoring phone calls and emails from people we’re angry at. 2) Flirting, with someone other than your partner (in the presence of your partner), to make them pay attention to you. 3) Complaining to a friend or family member, about a third party (friend or family member) who is in the room with you. 4) Posting pictures, updates, on a social networking site, intended to indirectly induce jealousy, anger, fear, sadness (or some other emotion) in someone you’re connected to.

It makes sense to “act out” when your entire purpose is to keep a juicy conflict alive – as in the case of a screen actor (or reality tv personality for that matter) – but when it comes to maintaining the relationships in your real life (as opposed to your “real” life – ie. Facebook, Twitter, or reality television incarnations) it usually makes more sense to reduce and eliminate conflict, making the maxim “Tell, don’t show” more appropriate.

In most cases we don’t actually want conflict to be furiously, and ruinously tearing through any of our significant relationships. So, if we want to feel less tense, anxious, and frustrated by the people we deem to be important, and instead to feel more connected to them, it’s up to us to work toward “Tell”-ing them (and only them) what we want and how we feel. We can then save our compulsion to perform/ “act out” for our artistic/ creative projects.

With so many audiences available to everyone in the way of the internet and television, it’s more tempting than ever to “act out” your own life, sacrificing insight, self reflection, and our ability to effectively connect with people we care about. Whether we choose to remain in constant conflict via “Show”, or make a conscious effort to maintain relationships that are free of drama via “Tell”, we must be aware that the choice is ours. A clear, connected, and conflict-free relationship does not an entertaining film, tv program, or internet post make – and vise versa.