It’s that time of year again. The holiday blitz. Too much sweet, too much savory, too much wine, too much cheer, and, for some, too much family.
Perhaps it’s age, perhaps it’s the current political climate, perhaps it’s my job, perhaps it’s nothing to do with me whatsoever. But I find as I get older I struggle with the holidays more and more. I dread meals with my family, sitting around the table listening to their religious and political beliefs, their passive aggressive comments about my life, the micro-aggressions being passed along with the potatoes. Knowing all too well that engaging in conversation will only result in conflict, and setting boundaries will only ignite tempers. And so each year I feel a little more trapped.
How many times have you heard, uttered, or thought the words “That’s just how I am”? When you’ve been confronted because of behavior another finds off-putting, have you defended yourself with, “that’s just how I am”? Behavior is a fascinating science and there are dozens of major theories on personality development. Things from genetics, to caregivers, to potty training, to behaviors reinforced or not, and a combination of everything and nothing. According to many philosophers, to understand oneself is the goal of life.
Understanding why we behave certain ways can be very helpful. But is understanding sufficient? Explanations can be comforting, certainly. Knowing you are the way you are for these particular reasons or background can lead to self-acceptance. But, is the way you are behaving how you actually want to be?
There is a lot to be said for self-acceptance. Often the goal of therapy is self-acceptance. Self-acceptance is a worthy goal.
But when someone says, “this is just how I am”, what are they really saying? The preface is, “I can’t help it…”, viewing it as a cop-out. Or perhaps, more plainly, they are saying, “I don’t have the motivation to change this aspect of myself”. It communications a sincere desire to avoid change.
How many times have you wished you hadn’t said something? Or started to say something, and realized it was a bad idea? So much of what we say is triggered by our current interactions tapping into our historical interactions. Otherwise known as conditioning. We have all been conditioned in our life. Our sense of humor is conditioned, how we handle our insecurities is conditioned, how we view men and women is conditioned, our family structure and dynamic is conditioned. We may have no control of our conditioning, but we do have control of our actions. And we have responsibility in how we treat other people, regardless of conditioning, regardless of “that’s just how I am”.
Breaking this conditioning takes a great deal of effort. Understanding yourself is a big part of it, but understanding why you behave the way you do requires more digging. It requires one to be come more conscious, to act more intentionally. And that is easier said than done.
So this holiday season, I encourage you to do some self reflecting. Not just on what you believe and why you believe it. But also on how you react in your interactions and why. Find something about your own behavior and conditioning you would like to change. For example, maybe you want to be more patient. Consider how you would want that to present, and find ways to remind yourself daily of your new goals. Seek out others to help you be accountable for your changes, to encourage you in your growth.
And most importantly, the goal is progress, not perfection. Progress is a slow journey, and requires grace. It is a worthy cause.