I recently talked about a particular “family events coping strategy” that I learned thirty years ago and still use because it works for me. Here it is: when I attend family gatherings, especially those involving emotionally “high stakes” situations, I pretend I am an anthropologist.
Anthropologists study the origin, development, and behavior of human beings, and they examine various cultures all over the world. So, as a pretend anthropologist myself, I treat the gathering I’m attending as my own little “expedition!” I imagine I’ve discovered a new culture, and this particular group is very interesting indeed.
Because I’m an “anthropologist,” I’m required to observe from afar and not interfere with their interactions. Since I’m interested in how they live and interact, I also look at how they speak to one another and behave around each other. I observe how they treat each other, and I study their words, body language, emotional and physical reactions, and responses.
How do I do this without getting involved in what they’re doing, you ask?
Here’s the secret:
Quick Document Links:
I do not get emotionally involved. I detach.
Watch and Learn
As a pretend anthropologist, my job is to study their behavior and how they live, interact, cooperate, and handle conflict. To do my job correctly, I must not engage. And I definitely must not allow myself to be drawn into any conflicts or irrational behavior. I stay emotionally and positively detached solely by observing. I make mental notes like, “That was a strange thing to do,” or “I wonder why he said THAT?” or “Wow, that reaction made no sense!” and so on. Later, I’ll journal about it (or talk with someone I trust) to potentially gain understanding, insight, and perspective.
In the same spirit of observing and staying uninvolved, a friend recently shared a little game that she and another aware family member play at their family gatherings. It’s called I SPOT DYSFUNCTION BINGO, and it’s an awesome coping tool.
Before the gathering, the two of them decide what behaviors will be in their game. They include things like “Johnny does his disappearing act,” “Mother promotes her victimhood,” “Sister Sally whips up drama,” “Brother Bill gets high,” “Cousin Nicky loses her temper,” “Dad makes someone cry,” and “Aunt Mary gets drunk.” They quietly keep tabs on the unfolding events and secretly acknowledge when one of them has noticed five of the target behaviors and gets a BINGO.
What a healthy way to remain aware yet emotionally detached while also receiving validation! I’m definitely keeping this one in my arsenal of coping strategies.
As with this or any coping tool you use, celebrate your insights about maladaptive behavior, whether it’s yours or someone else’s, and the clarity your insights bring. Acknowledge what you’ve learned AND HOW YOU CAN APPLY IT in the future. That’s called PROGRESS!
More tools for healing:
Learn about dysfunctional family roles
Learn about codependency
Learn how to protect yourself with boundaries
Learn about the narcissistic abuse cycle
Learn about Narcissism Awareness Grief
Learn how to use positive detachment
Learn why uncommunicated expectations can be harmful
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About the Author
As a result of growing up in a dysfunctional home, and with the help of professional therapists and continued personal growth, Diane Metcalf developed strong coping and healing strategies. She happily shares those with those who want to learn and grow in their own recovery journies.
Diane is an experienced advocate, speaker, and writer on narcissism, family dysfunction, and abuse. She draws from her personal childhood experiences, as well as her work in human service fields like domestic violence and partner abuse. She holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in Psychology and a Master of Science in Information Technology.
Her transformational books about healing and moving forward include the highly praised “Lemon Moms” series. This emotionally supportive collection explains narcissistic traits and teaches how to reconcile past hurts to begin self-nurturing, healing, and moving forward.
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This website is intended for informational purposes only and is not a substitute for professional therapy.