Sometimes, drama occurs in our relationships with family that is actually completely avoidable.
How do you feel when you think of spending extra time with your parents, in-laws, or siblings? Do you feel dread, resentment, frustration, excitement, joy, or anticipation?
There is no right answer.
You probably feel a combination of emotions. The important piece is to be aware of how you feel and to get clear that that’s how you want to feel.
Do you want to feel differently and form healthy relationships with your family members?
You can! How? By ensuring that you’re not adding drama to your relationships with common communication mistakes (that we’re all guilty of making).
By being aware of your role in the relationships and where you may be adding drama, you can begin to feel differently.
Here are 5 common ways you unintentionally create family drama that leads to toxic relationships.
1. You think you can read their minds
You think you know what your spouse or friend or boss is thinking. I hate to be the confidence-buster here but did you know you don’t actually have that skill?
Humans actually can’t read people’s minds. Yet, when we look around, we sure act as if we can.
These are not only things I hear around me and but that I’ve also said:
- “She didn’t call me back. She must be angry that…”
- “He never returned my email. He must think…”
- “She canceled our coffee date because…”
- “He didn’t offer me dessert because he thinks…”
- “She told me not to bring anything for Thanksgiving dinner because she thinks…”
In all of the above situations, the first part of the sentence is fact. He didn’t offer you dessert. She canceled your coffee. He didn’t return your email. But, often, the parts that come after that are all the dramatic flair we add to our lives when we think we can read their minds.
Tip: When in doubt, shout it out.
How do you avoid this drama trap? One word: communication.
You need to ask and communicate with the other. Shockingly simple but often not easy. Get out of the “mind reader mode” and into a deeper connection by opening your mouth and communication
Here are some things you can say:
- “I’m sensing that something is going on for you. Do you want to talk about it?”
- “When you came home today and did that, I made up this story in my head. What was going on?”
- “When you said I don’t need to bring anything for Thanksgiving dinner, my brain made up this story that you…”
Bottom line: You are not a mind reader. You don’t have that skill and it’s dangerous to your relationship to pretend you do. Other people don’t think like you. Stop. Breathe. Ask.
2. You take things personally
We add drama to our relationships with our families when we think that the things people do or say have something to do with us. This is normal and does not mean you’re a narcissist but that you have a brain.
Remember though, you get to decide whether to listen to your brain or not. Our brain tends to personalize events and then choose the most negative reason why things are happening.
I won’t get into the neuroscience behind our brain’s negativity bias here. For now, be aware of the assumptions you make, how your brain makes things personal, and take steps to free yourself of this drama.
Tip: Think of only 2 reasons
There are multiple reasons why things happen in the world. When you find yourself taking something personally, actively and consciously stop and think of 2 other reasons why that thing may have happened that have nothing to do with you.
- When someone doesn’t return your call, instead of making it about you, ask yourself, “What are other reasons why they may not have returned my call?”
- If your spouse snaps at you, ask yourself, “Why might this be triggering them, or what may be going on for them?” You can be aware that they are having an emotional experience but you don’t have to take it on as your problem.
- If someone cuts you off in traffic, ask yourself, “What are 2 reasons this person might have cut me off?”
Our brain likes to go straight to the personal: As if that person cutting you off in traffic has something against you personally. Yet, when we think that thought we feel anger or annoyance.
When we use the “2 Reasons” tool, we get into a curious mindset and it feels a lot different. The healthiest and most thriving relationships stick to the facts and question the assumptions our brains want to make.
3. You think you control other people’s emotions
These next two are probably the most common ways we add drama. We think we control other’s emotions.
It’s their thoughts that control how they feel. It’s always their thought-warriors.
This is at the crux of true emotional adulthood: Understanding that it’s not the events in our lives that make us feel a certain way but the thoughts we think about those events.
How might this show up for you? Do you hear yourself or those in your family of origin saying things like:
- “If I say that, he’ll be angry.”
- “Be careful around Dad tonight, he’s in a bad mood.”
- “I better clean up the house so he doesn’t get mad.”
- “Make sure you text him so he doesn’t get lonely.”
In all of the above examples, the person speaking is assuming they have control over how the other person feels as if our actions make someone else feel a certain way. This is not psychologically accurate and it’s in our best interests and for our relationships to not add drama in this way.
Tip: Pause and question.
Stop to notice when you’re taking responsibility for someone else’s emotions and instead question how that person’s thoughts are influencing their emotions. Ask yourself: “What else may be going on here?” Or “I wonder what they’re thinking to feel that way?”
Let them take care of themselves and you take care of yourself.
4. You give others control over your emotions
The other side of that coin is that we give others control of our emotions. If something makes you upset, it is because of the thoughts you’re thinking about that incident, not the external circumstance.
If it triggers you, it’s about you. When we think anything along the lines of “He made me mad” or “She annoys me”, we bring drama into our life.
It’s necessary to take responsibility for yourself, for how you feel, and for what makes you angry or upset.
Being an emotional adult means understanding that it’s not what happens in your life that makes you feel a certain way. It’s our thoughts about what happened that make us feel a certain way.
It’s not that our husband brings us flowers, buys us a gorgeous piece of jewelry, or leaves us love notes that make us feel a certain way. It’s our thought about those things that make us feel what we’re feeling. You are in charge of the thoughts you focus on and thus, you are in charge of how you feel.
It’s not that your kids leave their dishes in the sink or that your husband takes a while to return your text that make you feel a certain way. It’s your thought about those things that make you feel what you’re feeling.
Being an emotional adult means you recognize that if it bothers you, it’s about you.
Tip: What are you making it mean?
When I am bugged by my partner (or anyone I’m related to), my go-to tool is to get out my journal and answer the question, “What are you making it mean?”
This allows me to become a “watcher” of my mind. I get to step back and see which thought I’m thinking of to feel the way I’m feeling.
Am I telling myself that him leaving his socks on the floor means he doesn’t respect me? Am I telling myself that him buying me flowers means he treasures me? Am I telling myself that because he doesn’t return my texts quickly it means he doesn’t love me?!
I love asking myself this question because it puts me back in control by allowing me to step back and see which thoughts I’m thinking that would leave me feeling the way I’m feeling.
5. You think you don’t have a choice
Being in adult relationships means you have the ability to choose to act like an adult in those relationships. We always get to choose who we’re in a relationship with. We didn’t use to.
When we were young, we were in relationships and places that we possibly couldn’t get out of. No longer. We always have a choice and thinking otherwise adds drama to our life.
I used to feel a lot of dread and heaviness when I thought of the adult relationships in my life. Why? Because the primary adult relationships in my life were strife with codependency, enmeshment, and manipulation.
What I now see is how I was bringing that drama into my life. I was telling myself I had no choice and had to do certain things and be around certain people because they were family or because I had chosen to marry someone 15 years prior.
When I thought those thoughts I’d feel dread and resentment. How would I act? Oh dear warriors, not great. I did not show up as the best parent or as a friend to myself. I do what I do so as to provide tools to you all and hopefully demonstrate another path for you.
The people you surround yourself with and come into contact with affect your entire well-being: financially, emotionally, spiritually, and physically. Pay attention.
There are many long-term relationships where we tell ourselves, that’s the way he is or that’s the way we are and we move through our days sort of waiting and thinking, “What?”
What are we thinking? That we’ll wait it out ’til we die? Until the kids leave? Until the other person dies? That we don’t deserve any better? I hear you.
Over my life, I have had several relationships that drained the life force out of me. I am here to show you there is a better way and this is where to start.
Tip: Get curious.
Open your mind to the knowledge that you have a choice to have a relationship with those that you’re related to. Then get curious.
Here are some good questions to ask yourself:
- “If I wasn’t related to this person, would I choose to have a relationship with them?”
- “After I spend time with this person, how do I feel?”
- “How much mental energy do I need to put into managing my mind and emotional state to be in this relationship?”
- “Why do I continue this relationship?”
Fellow life coach and author Christine Hassler speaks of “Relationship Expiration Dates”. If you’re holding on to some relationships that leave you feeling more drained than energized, it’s a good article to read.
So what do you think? Did you discover that you’re adding some drama to your relationships? The good news is that you’re in control!
Emotional adulthood is having the courage to step back from what is happening in your life in order to learn and examine your role in it.
What do all these things have in common? They all have to do with our thoughts. This is the free-ing piece of this work. We don’t have to change anything external!
By bringing attention to the thoughts we’re choosing to think, we can remove drama, deepen the connection, and form healthy relationships with our family.
Bring attention to what you’re thinking and how it’s making you feel. You are an adult. You do not get to blame others for how you feel. You feel the way you feel because of the thoughts you’re choosing to focus on.
If you’ve been stuck playing the “blame game” for a while, this might be depressing to learn. I urge you to see the empowering ticket to life that this is. No one else can make you feel a certain way.
It took me a while to learn but once I did, it freed and empowered me. I’d love to help you find that freedom too. Everything is possible.
Susie Barolo is a Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Coach and Podcast host of the weekly Love Your Life Show. Sign up for her weekly newsletter to help you live a life you love!
This article was originally published at SMB Well. Reprinted with permission from the author.