Thinking about Thanksgiving!!

Thinking about Thanksgiving!!

You CAN Go Home Again and Enjoy It!

“I cannot have a future
 ’til I embrace my past.”

  — Debbie Friedman

Thanksgiving, the quintessential Norman Rockwell all American Family holiday will soon be upon us, which means just about everybody will either be with family or struggling with the fact that they won’t be with family, and of those people who will be with family, a significant number of them will be struggling with the fact that they have to be with family.

Thanksgiving dinners are often not as happy or satisfying as we’d like (Top Ten Ways Norman Rockwell’s Thanksgiving Doesn’t Look Like Mine). There is almost certainly going to be somebody present who makes family gatherings awkward and uncomfortable. Sitting down at the Thanksgiving table may well be the pompous fool, the inveterate liar who doesn’t remember anything about the family anyway, the family ne’er do well who never did a good day’s work in his/her life or the one who has married out of the faith or race and been disowned, declared dead, or excommunicated.

In her book You Can Go Home Again – Reconnecting With Your Family, Monica McGoldrick enumerates numerous caricatures of the people we would prefer not be in our family; the loud mouth, the spendthrift, the soft touch, the dead hero, the all-knowing matriarch, the goody two-shoes, or the person with drug or alcohol abuse issues. There will most probably be one or more of these archetypes who distress you sitting around your table. How and why do you deal with them and the family at large?

If you would like a Thanksgiving dinner that is more satisfying and enjoyable for yourself, if not for everybody else, then the task is to learn about your family in a different way; to take a larger, systemic, multi-generational perspective.

You can’t divorce your family or deny their history. You can try the “geographical solution,” but moving to California doesn’t make your family go away, and doesn’t make the effects of them on you go away either. Not dealing with them is a reactive stance that leaves you with few options. Intense closeness, conflict, distance and cutoffs are all functionally the same thing, a failure to resolve current issues that will leave a destructive legacy for future generations. In order to break the cycles someone has to do this work and it might as well be you.

Remember, you are not doing this to change anybody other than yourself. You are doing this to get a clearer picture of who you are, how you became who you are, and what the extended family influences on you are. The greater the amount of unresolved family emotional attachments the more difficult it is to function at a high level. Neither physical distance nor emotional cutoffs are effective.

The goal is to develop a unique one-to-one relationship with every member of the family. The task is about resolution of relationship trauma among family members. Going home is the best place to do that, because if you address the issues of your family of origin everything else becomes a whole lot easier to deal with. The Tao Te Ching says, “Going on means going far. Going far means returning.”

Learning about your family heritage can free you to change your future. This more differentiated approach will result in less dreadful anticipation, and who knows, you may even look forward to next year’s Thanksgiving dinner with a renewed sense of calm and well-being. Happy Holiday.

Please share your Thanksgiving thoughts, feelings and experiences in the “Leave a Reply” box below. To request more information and/or schedule an initial consultation, Click Here.

You are encouraged to forward this blog to anyone who would be interested in reading it.

 

Ronald B Cohen, MD, PC www.familyfocusedsolutions.com Ronald B. Cohen, MD
Bowen Family Systems Coach
1 Barstow Road, Suite P-10
Great Neck, NY 11021
(516) 466-7530
RBCohenMD@FamilyFocusedSolutions.com

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4 comments

  1. Jeremy Burd, M.D. on October 16, 2012 at 1:21 pm said:

    Dr. Cohen’s advice is well taken. I have come to love Thanksgivings as an adult and hope others do as well. I have tried to carry on the traditions which I enjoyed with my family and added some of my own. Hosting the feast has been a great way to do this.

    However, it is not always so easy and in times past I have heeded a very wise woman’s advice to a young psychiatrist. One way to protect yourself in uncomfortable family settings is to treat your family like your patients. By this I mean, to not expect anything from your family members. To listen and be kind. This does not mean to analyze your family’s behavior or to be kind, but rather to use the professional skills you may have developed to protect yourself. I am only giving away this secret because I no longer need it. Thanksgiving has become a holiday which as one of my patients put it his favorite because, “There are no expectations.” The point of the holiday is to hang out and have a meal. All the rest is bonus.

    I like Dr. Cohen’s suggestion of working on the individual relationships by trying to connect one-to-one as well. But this is something to work on the whole year as well.

    Wishing all a joyous and fun holiday season!

    • Ronald B Cohen, MD on October 16, 2012 at 7:28 pm said:

      Thank you Jeremy,

      I wholeheartedly agree, the process of differentiation is a year round, life long, never completed one. Large family gatherings like Thanksgiving provide an in vivo opportunity to become observers and researchers, allowing individuals to explore and understand the rules of their family of origin, their role in it, the influence of these experiences, and how they impact their current relationships thus acquiring the tools to partially free oneself from the emotional entrapment of one’s family of origin. Eating and hanging out is good too.

      Wishing all a Happy Thanksgiving.

      Regards,

      Ron

  2. sheryl simons on November 28, 2014 at 7:27 pm said:

    My question is, is there really anything you can do to work on cut-off, if you are only about changing yourself?

    • Ronald B Cohen, MD on December 1, 2014 at 5:06 pm said:

      Hi Sheryl,

      Great question. The simple answer is yes. The more complete answer is absolutely!

      Let’s think first about “if you are only about changing yourself”. In reality the only person any of us can change is our self. However, you can make change in your family relationships even without the participation of other family members. A change in any one family member’s behavior creates change in the entire family’s relationships. The process consists of the following three steps:

      1. Change yourself and you change the relationship.
      2. Be prepared for your family’s reaction. They may not welcome the new you.
      3. Respond to your family’s reaction with new, unexpected, more differentiated behavior.

      If you change yourself, you fundamentally change the nature of your relationships. After all, it’s not so much what others are saying and doing as how you are interpreting their behavior that is causing your distress. Start by distinguishing what you want in life for yourself as opposed to the roles, rules, stories, expectations, and taboos you learned growing up. Becoming more ‘responsible’ for one’s self allows one to act more ‘responsibly’ toward others. To engage in this process is to provide a platform for maximum growth and development.

      In his essay On the Differentiation of Self, Bowen wrote about his approach to connecting/differentiating from his avoidant/distant second brother. In essence, by writing multiple letters in which he revealed “secrets” from family triangles, Bowen was able to create a situation in which his brother was compelled to seek contact with him.

      Bowen Family Systems Theory (BFST) Coaching or Family Therapy with One Motivated Person is a process for making change that is not dependent on the participation of anyone else. Work on self-differentiation in one’s family of origin is always available, is uniquely efficient and effective regardless of the situation, and cannot be sabotaged. The goal is to solve problems in current relationships to avoid leaving a damaging legacy for future generations.

      The goal of staying connected despite differences is the essence of self-differentiation. In contradistinction to traditional psychotherapy BFST is uniquely applicable and productive regardless of the situation. By attending to our own “stuff” we always have the opportunity to make things better. Ultimately we are all responsible for our own emotional well-being. Bowen in a paper on differentiation described the process as changing one’s part in old, repetitive, dysfunctional emotional patterns so that one is able to speak one’s personal views calmly and nonreactively regardless of who is for or against them.

      Hope this helps. All the best on your unfolding adventure of a lifetime.

      Regards,

      — Ron

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