“Oh, Martha, the table looks lovely, you have outdone yourself this year!”
“You must have worked all throughout the night to pull off this feast!”
“Pass the stuffing, please.”
So on and so on… These are the polite conversations happening around the table. Meanwhile, a few of the guests are having internal monologues and counting every tick of the clock, wondering when they can flee from this stuffy room, and head home without a holiday flare up. The holidays can bring a lot of stress to people for various reasons. For instance, this may be the first year without a beloved family member or friend, and the empty chair is too uncomfortable to look at. For others, it’s the difficulty of being misunderstood by a relative or parent, too many criticisms and complaints to wash down with the dry turkey. Or the long-standing argument that always comes up just after the toast has been given, which makes the entire table tense.
Whatever the play by play looks like for your family, please know you are not alone. Most of us have had some variety of family mishaps during the holidays. It would seem there is an unspoken expectation of how everyone should behave, and how everything should look. Most likely years of unmet expectations perpetuate the following year's outcome. This is the work of the shadows.
Unfortunately, when expectations, blame, or judgment are present, the emphasis is not focused on connection. The shadows presence is interfering with the reason for the season; connection and memory making.
If we are showing up for any other reason then connection, this is the time to pause. Taking a pause is a conscious engagement of your inner world. You can tune in by giving yourself 5 minutes of quiet. Allowing your breath to soften, following your feelings all the way through you, to unearth what is behind your why…
Why am I going?
What do I expect from this gathering?
What am I willing to give?
These are only a few suggestions for questions to ponder during your pause. For the sake of most of our experiences, I wish to discuss the shadow of the holidays. The behaviors that some see in another person, and find irritating or stressful because the behavior is unsavory. The irony is that the person doing the behavior is certain that no one notices! The reason for the shadows pesky behavior, it is trying to help the person who feels inadequate in some way, by overcompensating, as a means to be loved and accepted. This is the nature of the shadow which is often most surprising.
Perhaps when sitting around the table this year, you can begin to write a new story about your family. One that lends more compassion and a wider aperture lens. Instead of feeling frustrated with your annoying Aunt, or obnoxious cousin. You can look at their shadow and say in your mind “I see you, I understand you’re trying really hard to not let anyone know how you are feeling lesser than in some way.” “I can accept you, even though I find you annoying.”
It takes the pressure off of you to anticipate things being any different, while also, bringing in a breath of fresh perspective to what you otherwise see as the usual performance. Think of this possibility as seeing a movie for the first time, even though you’ve read the book 100. You’re giving yourself the chance to experience something familiar as if it’s brand new.
All of us have shadows, and each of us is trying our best to be known. For now, we just aren’t ready to be known for our faults, or our insecurities. It takes time to feel safe enough to expose these qualities to the people closest to us. The holidays add extra pressure to perform. Whether it be conscious or unconscious the energy is there. So pass the gravy, exhale and have a little more fun with your loved ones and their shadows.