not so silent night

not so silent night - The Best Advice So Far


For the first time in my four-and-a-half years of blogging, I took a risk and published a post that peeled the curtain back a few inches on personal family dysfunction, illustrated by some attempted manipulation at this year’s family Christmas party that resulted in my choice to remove myself from the situation by leaving the event.

Also for the first time in my four-and-a-half years of blogging, I have deleted a post – the one that was previously here.

Names and identities were not revealed in the original post, since that was not the goal of the piece. Rather, the intent of the post (which I wrote after three days of consideration) was to benefit the readers of this blog, to let those who have less-than-perfect families know that you are not alone, that you are not somehow “the unlucky ones,” and that you are not powerless – that you always have a choice, even in the tricky and downright complicated situations life may bring. That goal, I feel, was accomplished. The comments here, as well as many personal notes of thanks and appreciation, would seem to attest to that.

However, within mere hours of the post going live, a steady onslaught of social media messages, emails, calls and texts came in from extended family members, the dysfunction and array of manipulation tactics of which made the original incident at the party seem like a sunny day at the park. In one case, I was essentially disowned via text (a message which was sandwiched, strangely, between smiley emoticons). What initially involved three people grew within twelve hours, through a chain of phone calls and link-sharing, to include upward of fifty best I can tell, some of whom were not even at the event, let alone part of the situation – but all of whom have expressed strikingly strong opinions about what happened and who was to blame (i.e., yours truly), nonetheless.

If only family talked this much when there wasn’t a problem. Alas …

At any rate, this created an interesting dilemma for me. The post itself was about a choice I’d made to not bend to the dysfunction and manipulation. And yet, due to the mounting aftermath of continued dysfunction and manipulation, I’ve ultimately decided to remove the post as originally written. I’m still not sure what to make of that. I guess this replacement explanation is the best I could do – retaining the acknowledgment of my less-than-perfect family, while at the same time removing all reference of any kind to “any actual persons, past or present.”

Honestly, if it were just me being frowned upon, guilted, called names, character bashed, cut off forever and ever amen, and what have you, I’d be OK with that, even as exhausting as it’s been. But for the sake of the growing number of family members being drawn into the fray, divided into sides and recruited to put more stones in proverbial walls – some of whom are not as prepared or able to handle the emotional ramifications at this time – I’ve made the choice to remove the post. (I shudder to think what would/will happen when we all have a real problem to contend with; but I suppose that is “future-me’s problem.”)

As my friend Dib wisely says and often, “Save yourself.” In the end, some ships just aren’t worth going down with. I’ve decided that this is one of them.

A heartfelt thanks to the many readers who shared your own comments and stories, who chose to be vulnerable so that you could encourage others, and who emailed with appreciation and support.

To uninvolved family members who found yourselves caught in the crossfire, please know that this was not my intent. I trust that removing the post, while certainly no cure for what ails us, will at least serve to stem the bleeding for the time being.


Happiness is a choice,” I remind myself. “And misery is also a choice.”

Happiness is a choice.


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About Erik

Erik is an author, speaker, blogger, facilitator, people lover, creative force, conversationalist, problem solver, chance-taker, noticer and lover of life. He lives in the Boston area. "It's more about writing lives than writing pages." View all posts by Erik

22 responses to “not so silent night

  • C.E.Robinson

    Erik, late to this post and did not read the original. I do have a standard thought when in the middle of family discussions and discord. I remember to “respect the pathology,” divert and redirect. I do a virtual shake my head and roll my eyes at some of what families come up with when in a group,especially celebrating, food & drink involved! Chryssa

    Liked by 1 person

    • Erik

      Hi, Chryssa. Thanks for reading and sharing your insights. I totally agree! Every year prior, I’ve been quite able to just go with the flow, realizing it’s a few hours a year. Not much riles me, truly. This year required a different approach, because of the relentless quest to attempt to force me to do something against my will and beliefs; and the best solution I could see at hand was to remove myself.

      I hope you’ll poke around a bit on other posts here, since this one post is quite a bit outside my usually approach and tone (though it is consistent with the overall theme: that you always have a choice).

      Liked by 1 person

      • C.E.Robinson

        Erik, understand the removal from the scene! Which caused quite a stir. Not going to change the situation so the best path you took…out of there! Look forward to reading more posts… I’ll be back! Happy New Year! Chryssa

        Liked by 1 person

        • Erik

          Oddly enough, it helped me to follow through, even though it did cause I stir. I realized that it caused the stir, and others chose to cause a stir – I did not. And it affirmed to me that I am stolid in my resolve to say no more often toward saying YES to better things this year – even if others choose not to like me in that moment. Par for the course.

          Thanks again for not only reading but taking time to encourage and relate, Chryssa.

          Liked by 1 person

  • Sean P Carlin

    Erik,

    I’m sorry I didn’t get an opportunity to read the original post; I’ve been out of town and “offline,” as it were.

    I think familial dysfunction doesn’t get enough honest public appraisal, frankly — we are conditioned by sitcoms to interpret dysfunctional as “quirky,” when in fact there’s nothing the least bit pleasant or humorous about true domestic dysfunction — and I would have appreciated your particular insights and candor on the subject. Honesty and candor, after all, are the antidotes to dysfunction, so it doesn’t surprise me that the agents of suppression were deployed as swiftly and vociferously as indicated.

    Hey, look at the bright side: You struck a nerve. Isn’t that, after all, the objective of good writing? I realize, of course, that wasn’t your agenda, but I don’t see any harm in taking some small measure of validation from that. I certainly don’t advocate going around and actively trying to tick people off, but on rare occasion such a splenetic response can be a happy by-product, if you’re inclined to adopt such a perspective, of an action taken with only the purest of intentions.

    Sean

    Like

    • Erik

      Hey, Sean. Thanks for the additional perspective. All the drama ensued essentially because I said “no” to people; so another silver lining is that, based on everyone’s dire reactions, I don’t suppose any of them will be asking me to do much in the near future, thereby alleviating my need to say “no” at all.

      Liked by 1 person

  • gina amos

    A sad tale, Erik. I think most of us have this feeling or hope that the next Christmas of family get together will be better than the last. I was in a similar position with my family…family members holding onto grievances, putting on false smiles while feeling bitterness towards me for some misunderstanding that happened decades before. I now choose to surround myself with positive, loving people, friends who I consider family. I have no regrets for casting those family members adrift, only peace and relief.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Erik

      Thanks for sharing this, Gina. It’s another good – and personal – account illustrating that, while we always have a choice, those choices are not by any means always easy. It’s easier in the short run to just get swallowed by the dysfunction; but long term “peace and relief” do sometimes require the hard choice to remove yourself from it. Thanks for the honesty.

      Liked by 1 person

  • Jed Jurchenko

    Thanks for sharing this Erik,

    It’s powerful, beautiful, chaotic, and unresolved… like so many of my own stories. I just finished writing about how I’ve been learning that telling my messy story makes me more relatable – in fact, I’m pretty sure that you are one of the people that have cheered me on in this process.

    I love how you find beauty in the midst of the chaos, and continue to model the power of choice.Many of our stories will never be “fixed,” but this doesn’t mean that they can’t be good.

    It’s awesome to live out my own messy, chaotic, confusing… and yet oddly beautiful and meaningful story, with others who are doing the same.

    Thanks for leading the way!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Erik

      Hey, Jed. Glad you were encouraged by it. It was certainly a difficult decision; but as you point out here, I tell others that we need to be honest (while being as gracious as possible) about our realities, and I need to live that, come what may. The encouragement is cyclical, so thanks for encouraging me back!

      Liked by 1 person

  • Ellen Morris Prewitt

    I’m convinced these established patterns of behavior are incredibly addictive pulls. The awareness of a conscious choice in how you respond to people, how you interact—what is your behavior going to be?—is something you have to prepare yourself for before hand. You are an expert in putting this awareness into practice, and I’m sure your book has helped many people be more intentional about who they want to be.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Erik

      Thanks for the thoughtful comment, Ellen. I don’t know that I consider myself an expert; I’m definitely still “in process” figuring out how to practice with more consistency what I’ve found works and results in peace and balance. But I do hope at least the honesty in the middle of things sparks the courage for people to rethink, make new choices and move forward.

      Liked by 1 person

  • scottishmomus

    I watched Polar Express, for the first time ever, with a class of children, just last week, and realised that maybe I wasn’t hearing the sleigh bells quite so clearly as I had in the past. Christmas can become just another workload. I had already decided, earlier in the month, that I wasn’t issuing invitations to extended family for over the period. Those who wanted to drop by could and, if not, fine. What a load off. I’ve had a lovely Christmas with immediate family, visitors have been made welcome but the pressure was off in tons. I made a choice, others got to make theirs and I heard the sleigh bells again.
    Families are complicated by all the growing relationships, and extensions of, gatherings can certainly be hazardous to your health(!) and tricky to manoeuvre. The only thing we can really control is our own actions and reactions. Everyone else has to manage theirs. I guess all families are the same. My mum used to say that ‘hatches, matches and dispatches’ were a real test on extended family relationships, as the only times when everyone is forced to be together; old grudges coming further to the fore with every drink consumed; people starting off with their best behaviour then gradually reverting to norm.
    I think the bottom line is that everyone carries baggage but we have to let them carry their own just as we have to.
    Merry Christmas to you and I hope the coming year sees positive resolutions among all families to live and let live. Or stay out of the way! 😉

    Liked by 1 person

    • Erik

      This sums it up perfectly: “I made a choice, others got to make theirs and I heard the sleigh bells again.” As I said to Diana below, I don’t have terribly high hopes that family will resolve anything. Most are too old and set in their ways, and among those ways is “being the good one.” Anything that shatters that view of self is not allowed. So events are retold and retold until each person has constructed a version in which they are the hero and all else villains. But what you say is nonetheless true: I can only be responsible for my choices, not theirs. And I had a wonderful Christmas! Because as soon as I left, I moved into the next moment with the next people, without sullying the mood with “the ghosts of people past.”

      Liked by 1 person

  • D. Wallace Peach

    Oh dear, Erik, that sounds like running the drama gauntlet. Yeesh, no wonder you felt exhausted. I’m so glad you returned to listen to your Nana’s story and then again to wish her a Merry Christmas. It would be such a shame if you had missed those truly special moments – the most important of the holiday and ones that may not come again.

    As much as we try not to, everyone can get sucked into family drama once in a while. Most of the time I let it flow around me by recognizing that their “stuff” really has little to do with me. It’s about them and I refuse to take it off their hands. I stay in my little bubble and gravitate toward the people that have better things to do with their limited time on Earth.

    On those occasions when negativity is almost unavoidable, the choices are harder, confront honestly or escape with one’s sanity. Neither are comfortable, as you can attest and both have repercussions. I suppose the key is an awareness that one isn’t stuck playing the drama game.

    I hope the outcome sorts itself out with less rigamarole. Let them own their stuff and keep smiling. Happy New Year.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Erik

      Hi, Diana. Great perspective and spot on as far as I can see. I don’t hold out any hope that family members will “own” anything. In fact, this post wasn’t written for their benefit or to make a point to them. It was written to my regular readers alone – so that no one ever thinks my claim that we “always have a choice” is coming from someone with a perpetually easy life. I felt good about my choices that night, though they still presented complications and sadness. But I was also able to get back in the moment afterward and move on, to enjoy a wonderful Christmas Day with good people.

      Liked by 1 person

      • D. Wallace Peach

        I’m with you, Erik. I wasn’t expecting the grouches and grinches to “own” their behavior. That rarely works anyway. Yet, at the same time, it does belong to them. Their manipulative and bullying behavior impacts their relationships, happiness, world view, and so they are stuck living with their choices until they make new ones.

        You do seem to have a charmed life at times, though that’s a thing of fantasy, isn’t it? Humans are messy if anything. You’re both wise and brave to share how your approach to life plays out in real situations within messy families. It may not always be easy and the outcome may not be all glitter and hugs, but you are right, we always have a choice as to how we’ll respond. Happy New Year to you full of wonderful moments with good people. 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

        • Erik

          I have a biological family, which was not my choice; and I have the family I’ve chosen in my life. I just spend as much time as possible with the latter (which does include a handful from the former). And, yes, as you say, the rest are stuck living with their choices. If I seem to have a charmed life, it is only as a result of choices, not that my circumstances are any less messy than most.

          Happy New Year to you, as well!

          Liked by 1 person

    • Jed Jurchenko

      “Let them own their stuff and keep smiling.” I love this. Someone should make this into an inspirational Christmas decoration. I think a lot of us would benefit from looking at these words often 🙂

      Liked by 2 people

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