In my August 2021 blog, I shared that my aunt Flo used the Yiddish word “Mazel” as the reason she has lived to the glorious age of one hundred. The same word “Mazel” also describes my good fortune in my 40 years of practicing medicine. For me to really understand the driving force in the life and the health of patients, I had to engage and comprehend (as best as possible), what made their family and relationships tick.
The Intricacies of Relationships
Have you ever been challenged in a family or social relationship?
My observations of my patients over the years revealed that families and relationships can be difficult. Some are smooth and free of any ripples, many have some turbulence, and others are like a continuous loop of hurricanes, tornadoes and earthquakes. I often found myself in a front-row seat listening to the physical and emotional stress evoked by troubled relationships. My advice and insights were frequently requested.
A Framework for Stronger Relationships
During my early years in practice, I simply listened, as I lacked the experience to provide insights. As time passed, I saw enough to develop a framework to provide my wisdom and guidance.
The framework incorporated two key concepts.
One came from a colleague who was a magician … He told me that in the world of card tricks, there were only three. The entire trick revolves around how you formulate the trick and the story you tell as a distraction. Understanding this, enables a magician to develop an infinite number of card tricks.
The second concept came to me when I wrote my first book. I developed the acronym GRACE (Goals, Roots, Attitude, Companionship, Environment) to coalesce all the actions people did to live happy, healthy, long lives. During the process of putting my thoughts on paper, I convinced myself that there are a finite number of stories that repeat from one family to the next. We live by following a script we see played out by others in our past, in books, in movies, or on TV. Since I am obsessed with the number five, I decided that there are probably only five stories and like my magician colleague, all we have to do is change a few details and the stories seem unique. The names and circumstances change but the stories repeat.
How History Repeats Itself
Have you ever felt history repeating itself in your family or relationships?
We have all heard that “history repeats itself.” From mythology to the Bible, to fictional characters of the past to futuristic characters, and unfortunately, worldwide situations, the stories repeat.
In the lives of friends and patients, it seems many have experienced these repetitive cycles. There are so many happy families with minimal conflicts, but there are more than enough difficult relationship stories that demonstrate trends. Friction from childhood, unrealistic expectations, poor communication, and failure to empathize or show mutual respect for one another are some of the identifiable root causes.
When opportunities presented themselves to hear my patients’ stories of conflict and how they evolve, it was like watching the same accident happening in slow motion. As I listened over and over again, I became skillful in predicting how a story would end.
Breaking Free from Old Stories of Conflict
The choice to address, focus and reflect on difficult relationships in December can hopefully be meaningful this holiday season … A time when most families make the point of getting together (or continue to avoid each other) especially after the last few years of pandemic isolation.
I am aware of family members who are estranged; some for short periods, others for very long periods. Some have vivid recollections of the event or events that triggered the estrangement. Some individuals cannot recall the event and others hold on so tight to their beliefs that reconciliation is impossible. As I heard so many of the same general stories over the years, I just wondered how people could let things get so out of hand. Misunderstandings that lead to hurt feelings, pride or even greed, impede extending an olive branch to make reconciliation impossible. Estrangement is painful but worthy of attempts at reconciliation and promoting peace of mind. Understandably, some relationships are not salvageable and are broken beyond repair. On several occasions though, I have seen differences melt away when both parties make intentional efforts. In other situations, the two people agree to disagree but forge a peaceful coexistence.
Do any of these situations sound familiar?
Peaceful Coexistence and Reconciliation
My suggested call to action this holiday season is work on reconciliation.
Is there someone in your life you yearn to reconnect with or offer forgiveness? Taking the first step forward is never easy, it takes thought and consideration.
Visualize the possibilities of a meaningful and peaceful outcome. Explore your willingness and that of the other party. Then formulate your approach, ask for support (friends or family), take a deep breath, and go for it. Be patient with the process and maintain confidence for a positive outcome.
Wishing you a peaceful and meaningful holiday season.
To a long and healthy life,
David Bernstein, MD
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