One of my favorite sayings is, “It’s no big deal.” I am quick to reassure the people in my family that everything is okay. My intentions are good. I am not trying to minimize or dismiss things, I am just trying to be of comfort and “move on.” One of the reasons that I do this is because in my family growing up, my father had a very short fuse. Combine a short fuse with alcohol and you get a very combustible situation. My role in my family was peacemaker and I took that role very seriously. Many years later, even though my father has long been out of the picture, I still find myself “keeping the peace.” A glass of water gets spilled and I’m quick to help clean up, “It’s okay, no worries.” But if the water spilled on a favorite book, maybe it feels like a big deal. My reassurances can feel dismissive. Yesterday’s coping strategies become today’s dysfunctions. Awareness is key. I have to be willing to look at myself, acknowledge the inappropriateness of my response today and take the appropriate action. “It’s okay, no worries,” may become, “Oh, I’m so sorry. That’s really upsetting isn’t it?”
When confronted with the fiery flames of anger, my impulse is to run for the fire hose, ever ready to douse the flames. More often than not, there were no real fiery flames. No danger at all. In fact, that little spark of indignation or irritation often leads to resolution and is necessary. Yet, there I stand, embarrassed, having just drenched all of those around me with my watery reassurances. Like a fire sprinkling system run amuck, water damage can result. I have to remind myself to return to that solid, consistent, energy of earth in my response. A few sparks of irritation probably won’t start a forest fire and may be necessary in the current situation. Every family dynamic is unique. I’ve participated in therapy with families where one “fiery” individual is constantly assailed by another family member’s “winds” of wisdom. These winds merely fan the flames, creating more destruction and conflict. In some families, that solid, grounded energy of earth may be felt as resistance when contrasted with the watery effusiveness of another’s emotions. Mom is crying and needing to be heard, her son is quiet, thoughtful and unresponsive. That “etheric” energy of reasoning and postulating so welcomed by the “airy” individual may leave the very grounded “earthy” individual feeling remote, removed and disconnected.
Our history and energetic styles influence the way we interact within our family systems. Knowledge is power, and can help us minimize dysfunctional or hurtful interactions. I didn’t grow up and choose a career with the fire department and frankly, I get tired of carrying around my firehose. I’m tired and it’s heavy. So, I choose again today, to leave behind those coping strategies of yesterday, embracing instead a new and intentional way of being in my family. What about you?