Make peace with your family.

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Slide 1: 

Leonard Felder, Ph.D., is a licensed psychologist and award-winning writer of 11 books that have sold over 1 million copies. This PPS is adapted from his latest book, Fitting In Is Overrated Click to advance>

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Millions of intelligent and caring individuals sometimes feel like a fish out of water at their own family gatherings and holiday events. No matter how much you accomplish, you still might feel estranged or belittled by certain family members who judge you harshly--or don’t accept who you are. Here are 10 brief spiritual tips for making peace with your family, even if you sometimes feel like screaming when you are around difficult relatives at holidays and other family events.

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Envision your family situation as an inspiring growth challenge. If one of your spiritual goals in life is to learn patience, compassion, forgiveness, or serenity, your difficult family members can give you some wonderful “feel the burn” workouts! It’s no sweat to be patient, compassionate, forgiving, or serene with people who aren't in your family, but if you can learn to do it with your most irritating blood relatives, then in looking back at your life you will definitely be able to say you’ve done some crucial inner work on your spiritual journey.

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There are usually one or two lines uttered by a relative that drive you mad every time, such as, “You look like you need to lose weight,” “Why aren’t you married yet?” or “Why can’t your kids behave as well as your sister’s kids?” With a counselor, friend, or tape recorder, take a few minutes several days ahead of any family gathering to practice hearing the one or two most guilt-inducing or shaming phrases that your difficult relative tends to say to you or someone you love. Then practice breathing slowly in and out, staying calm, and responding with clarity, compassion, and firmness to their worst remarks by saying something like: “I appreciate your concern. I’ll let you know as soon as I have any good news to report on that issue. Now let’s get back to the reason we’re all gathered here for this special event.”

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Instead of cringing or feeling ashamed each time your family refers to you as the one who just won’t go along with the status quo, why not see it as a compliment? Maybe you are the first honest person in a family that lives in that crowded State of Denial. Possibly you are the first healthy person in a family that prides itself on its addictions, harsh competitiveness, or unhealthy habits. Or it could be that you are the first member of your extended family to pursue an alternative life path that is filled with love, purpose, commitment, and goodness. Instead of dreading that your family will call you an outsider, celebrate the fact that you have chosen a life that has authenticity and heart.

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Rather than feeling crushed or trapped each time you are in a conversation with a highly opinionated or dogmatic family member, do some research with relatives or others to find out why this person is so intense and inflexible. What are the moments in his or her life that caused this individual to become so hard to connect with? What are the unresolved insecurities and painful hurts that this fragile soul has never gotten over? Is it possible that some spark of holiness or light is still shining in this person’s heart, even if it’s covered over with lots of difficult personality layers? Try to see that spark, through your spiritual eyes.

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There has to be at least one member of the family circle with the courage to hear and support your ideas for how to improve family gatherings. Or it might be another rebel in the family who bonds with you because you are the only one willing to admit the family’s favourite emperor is naked. Or it might be a friend or lover you bring along to the family gathering who can look you in the eye and say silently, “I completely agree with your perspective, and I have great compassion for all you’ve had to endure over the years.”

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Instead of walking in with a chip on your shoulder or a sense of victimization, why not have a brainstorming session before the event with a sympathetic family member about fixing some difficult part of the situation? Take turns coming up with ways to make things better this year and explore who else in the family might be willing to back up your ideas. Change won't happen overnight, but if you lobby ahead of time with your best allies and come up with a few realistic solutions that the family leaders can utilize while respecting their traditions, some progress can be made.

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You might be better off inviting a few people to an alternative holiday gathering that is more creative and meaningful than what your family does. Or you might say no to the big family gathering and just spend some quality time on a different day with the one or two relatives who are more satisfying to be with. Just because you are different from the norm in your family doesn’t mean you need to feel cut off from all warmth and support—it simply means you need to establish a different way of insuring that you spend each holiday with good people who appreciate you as an individual.

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One of the hidden blessings of being different from your own family is that it can open up your eyes and your heart to reach out to others who need support. Maybe your role at the next family gathering is to connect with and be a good listener to someone who has always felt out of the loop. Or possibly your gift will be to help one of the younger members of the family appreciate his or her own uniqueness. Or it could be that your strength will reveal itself during the moments when you talk one-on-one in private with someone who has just been slammed or criticized by a certain family member. Rather than see yourself as a victim or an outsider, why not see yourself as the leader or supporter of the viable minority faction in your family?

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Many of us talk about unconditional love, but we don’t really practice it. Yet if you are willing to help care for a parent who wasn’t the best mom or dad but is now in a vulnerable situation, you can open up your heart and soul to what it means to love even when that person has hurt you in the past. Or if you are willing to be compassionate and helpful to a sibling or grown child who has been cruel at times, you will have a chance to explore the possibility of loving someone’s soul with no strings attached. You will need to protect yourself and not be a doormat for additional mistreatment, but you might find yourself being able to reach a level of love and generosity that is beyond anything you’ve experienced previously.

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When it comes to the pain of being an outsider in family, school, work, and group situations, I’ve heard hundreds of exquisite stories of people who hung in there and kept responding with integrity and compassion, even when they were surrounded by family members who were hurtful or insensitive. In many of these real-life family conflicts, there came a moment when the judgmental family member finally looked into the eyes of the compassionate outsider and said, “You’re really something special. I didn’t understand for a long time why you were doing what you were doing your family finally appreciates who you are. But now I see you had good reasons to stand apart and to become the remarkable person you’ve become.” I can’t guarantee those moments will happen in each family, but I can assure you that only by staying healthy and patient will you be available for that unforgettable moment when your family finally appreciates who you are.

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Many creative, caring, and intelligent people know what it feels like to be an outsider, to be different, or to be outnumbered by people who don't envision what you envision.Now that you have the eyes, ears, heart, and soul of an "Insightful Outsider,“ which of what you have read sounds like you (or someone you care about who is also unlike the majority):

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