Friday, November 27, 2009

Being with family

[The following discussion is completely academic and philosophical with no connection to anything real that has ever happened, anywhere.]

Given that the members of a family have the longest history together, know each other the best and have had the most time to build a stock of past transgressions and affronts,

Given that all of the triggers that set you off were installed by your family and they are most aware of just how to effect your behavior,

Given that human nature is to establish one's own comfort even at the risk of others' comfort,

Given that most people are trying for some ideal of a holiday celebration which adds real performance anxiety to the mix,

And given that once we leave our families of origin we lose the daily practice of getting along with them, so that on these major holidays we have to relearn old dynamics and strategies that often feel like putting a wet bathing suit back on (and worse analogies),

How can Thanksgiving and other major holiday gatherings NOT bring out the worst in ourselves?

Maybe more than that, I wonder why people do it. Why do we return, year after year, to our families that bring out the worst in us for celebrations that are mediocre at best? I'm not talking about the few people who have positive family gatherings of warmth and true affection. I'm not talking about gatherings without underlying tension and unspoken (or way too spoken) resentments. I'm sure there are those too, but they are in the minority. I'm talking about the tedious affairs with people who do not like each other. Why do those annual celebrations perpetuate?

I suppose it's a matter of things not being bad enough to cut them off. Someone who returns year after to year to outright hostility and physical violence is more likely to stop going than someone who returns to mild hostility and psychological violence. Also, if your family has taught you that emotional abuse is love, they can keep you enthralled longer than if you can clearly see that being screamed at over a turkey-laden dinner table is unacceptable.

I guess we return to these destructive rituals because we think this is how it's supposed to be. And lots of people probably think it's easier to struggle through such dinners than to face their family with the true reasons they will not be returning. As few people as there are who actually enjoy being with their extended families for the holidays, with no emotional price to pay for it, there are far fewer of us who have honestly told our families why we will not be back. I imagine that in order to avoid that level of honesty, many people will spend their entire lives returning to the scene of the crime.

But I still don't get it.

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