“If we learn to open our hearts, anyone, including the people who drive us crazy, can be our teacher.” ~Pema Chodron
You love them most of the time. You can’t stand them some of the time. But in the end, family is family.
I’ve never liked to admit it, but I am just like my dad. Close in birthday, same number 5 life path in numerology, both risk takers, very passionate and adventurous, fun-loving, and witty, and we lead by example. That’s positively speaking.
However, it becomes a negative pattern to focus on the other side of the coin. We both have the ability to become angry, withdrawn, and addicted to drama, and we both try to please everyone then resent others for their own imbalance.
Do you think it’s any surprise the family you were born into?
I used to blame my snappy behavior on my dad, whether at work, with girlfriends, or in social environments. “It’s my conditioning,” was my excuse I told myself. That’s exactly what it is from my perspective—an excuse.
On closer self-reflection, I found myself getting angrier and angrier that I was like my dad and becoming more like him.
Even though he’s a great guy, whenever I had a frustrating moment or lost my temper, I would blame him. No accountability or responsibility for my beliefs and actions, or the decisions I had made that led me to my current state.
What this did was further fuel my anger because I began to resent myself too.
I didn’t love myself as a “whole,” warts and all. I only wanted to see the positive stuff, but that became harder to do when I didn’t acknowledge, understand, and process my shadow as a part of who I am. This neglect strangely disabled my ability to enjoy the more positive aspects of my nature.
From my perspective, my dad was waking me up to own my anger and helping me see how it was also of benefit and service to me.
This moment came to a head at a FedEx Office when an employee made a remark to me that made me feel stupid. Well, that’s how I interpreted it at the time anyway. I hadn’t read the signs on how to use the self-service computers, and the employee reminded me in a condescending tone to read the signs over to my left.
That was enough for me to lose it. “What the hell did you just say to me?” I snapped.
I went from zero to a thousand in an instant and kept shouting like a crazy person. I could feel my head boil. It was then that a friend called on my cell. I stepped away, while the employee looked stunned and embarrassed by my behavior, while the women in line clutched their pearls so to speak.
I picked up the call and subconsciously said, “Don’t mind me, just having a moment here at Fed Ex. Snapped like my Dad.”
There went the finger of blame. Once again, I refused to accept that I could behave that way. My easy-going nature was where I liked to focus my awareness.
The idea that I could sting with my words in a heartbeat, I chose to neglect. It reminded me too much of my dad and how I didn’t like it when he cut me off from a sentence or adamantly refused to see things from my perspective. It was his fault that this was becoming an all too familiar occurrence was my excuse.
Thankfully, my friend on the phone is also a mentor, so he reminded me it was time to take a closer look.
“If your dad is the constant focus of your anger, what is he trying to wake you up to? Can you see he is subconsciously summoning you to investigate a part of yourself that desperately needs attention?” he asked.
It’s hard looking at yourself in the mirror when you may see an aspect of yourself you deny. But in order for me to understand my anger, I needed to become familiar with it and take responsibility.
By owning the positive side of my angry outbursts, I could stop judging myself and release blame directed at my dad.
Sound a little weird? Stay with me.
At home with a pen and paper, I wrote down every benefit I could think of, which told me how being angry was also of service to me. Some benefits included:
- Anger helps me take action; the fire within motivates me to go after what I really want. It helps me create tunnel vision and to block out anything or anyone that I see as a distraction to my goals.
- It adds to the emotion and depth of my writing, which can only add to its authenticity.
- It gives me an opportunity to practice accepting my shadow side. I don’t need to fight my anger; I just need to understand it and become more mindful of how I use it. This becomes a practice of accepting myself as I am.
By the time I had finished this exercise, which quickly became a page and a half, I felt a huge weight had lifted. The more self-aware I became, the less my anger bubbled to the surface.
I believe that was because I let myself off the hook. I forgave myself for being angry and forgave my dad for how he was. That in of itself was a huge weight to lift off my chest. Understanding it made me calmer and accentuated my ability to enjoy the more “positive” aspects of my nature.
This is, I believe, what my dad was waking me up to. I’ll say it again:
Do you think it’s any surprise the family you were born into? Think about it. And for better or worse, considering the amount of time we spend with our families growing up, it comes as no surprise that certain family members seriously push our buttons.
Why do they push our buttons? To help us discover what we’re meant to work through in this lifetime. Simply put, to help us grow. They are our teachers to help us wake up to parts of ourselves that need attention, understanding, and in some cases healing.
When rubbed the wrong way, the idea is to be able to take a closer look at ourselves and grow. What are these button pushers trying to teach us? Why do we react the way we do? What pain point are they touching? Are we willing to admit this and address it? Are we willing to not take it all so personally?
I believe that there are no accidents. I believe that our birth into our individual families is not random. Even if you don’t share this belief, you can still choose to see your challenging relationships as opportunities for growth, thereby empowering yourself instead of victimizing yourself.
The invitation to grow can help us be more empathetic, compassionate, loving, self-aware, trusting, authentic, confident, and less self-absorbed, jealous, envious, uncooperative, angry, and impatient.
You might be thinking, “Well, my brother bullies me,” or “My mother was abusive.” Sure, they might have been and probably were. But what do we know about hurt people? They hurt others.
Put yourself in his or her shoes. Imagine how much he is hurting or what dis-ease she has in her body? You have no idea what it is like to walk in their shoes. And look, it doesn’t give them a “get out of jail free card,” but it does give you an opportunity to become stronger and more self-aware, and to tap into a deeper understanding of your authenticity.
Maybe the bully of the family is summoning you to stand up for yourself, believe in yourself. Maybe your mother is calling for you to treat yourself with more kindness, so you can then teach others how to be kind.
I could go into a billion examples in family relationships, but the point I’m making is that your family is designed to help you grow. The task at hand is to wake up and pay attention to what each one of them has to teach you.
About Marshall Dunn
Marshall Dunn is the author of Letters to Mitch - The Healing Power of Grief, Love & Truth, which is available now on Amazon. Marshall also mentors individuals around the world to awaken to their truth and step into the life they are born to live. Visit www.marshalldunn.com for more information, and follow him on Instagram and Facebook.
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