Holidays draw people home, sometimes physically, sometimes just in spirit or memory. From a systems perspective, home is a rich place for initiating substantive personal growth and development.
In addition to connecting with family, holidays can also be a time of returning to one’s religious roots in a variety of ways, another fertile ground for self-reflection and meaningful development.
Whatever your current quality of connection or lack of connection to your roots, everyone is influenced by their family of origin. We all go home in one way or another at various times during the year, even if only through our thoughts or the actions we choose.
In our childhood homes we learned how to behave on an emotional level. These lessons might have been beneficial, destructive or a mix.
For those who grew up in a religious tradition, our religious home taught us how to function emotionally and spiritually in community. Again, these messages might have been beneficial, destructive or a mix.
Returning to family or church home reminds us of lessons learned as well as changes we have made. It can be a measuring stick of how far we have come and where we yet wish to go.
How can we make those times of returning home benefit our personal emotional health and well-being? How can we welcome home those who rarely drop by and both help them connect to that which is truly of value and also learn something about ourselves from their presence.
Here are four steps to make a valuable study out of going home and receiving others home. These steps can be applied both when physically joining family members and when remembering and reflecting on past experiences with a family or religious home.
Notice/Observe. Pay attention to the topics and content that are shared or avoided, or remember that content. Pay attention to who says what and to how things are said. Pay attention to non-verbal messages that are communicated.
Notice the patterns that have persisted through the generations. Here are some questions to ask yourself: Who or what is at the center of discussions and interactions? Who tends to stay off to the side? Who is in charge? What leadership style does he or she have? Who is quiet and supportive? Who attends the gatherings? Who stays home? What emotions are expressed and how? What emotions are avoided? You can take the study a step further by asking questions to find out how these patterns took place in previous generations.
Notice your role in the patterns you observed. Murray Bowen taught that emotional patterns are transmitted through the generations. Understanding how other family members relate to each other, can help you understand yourself better.
Imagine: If you could wave a magic wand and change the scene, what would be different? Imagine changing your participation in some way. What would you like to be different? Or what do you wish had been different. If you like the current interactions, imagine taking on a different role in the interactions. What if you did something a little differently than you’ve always done, or in a way that others wouldn’t expect from you or from someone in your position. What might happen? If you could say or do anything without worrying about the response, what would you say or do?
Experiment: After weighing the possibilities, set a goal for something you would like change in your participation. This change could actually take place at home or it could take place in another setting in which similar interactions occur. Try out a new behavior or a new role. It might feel refreshing or it might feel uncomfortable. Consider it an adventure.
Repeat: After the experiment, go back to observing. How do people respond to your experiment? What are your personal reactions? Is this something worth continuing for a while? Next re-imagine. Given your post-experiment observations, what might you imagine next. Try a new experiment and repeat the process.