As parents of special needs kids, we have the opportunity to interact with many individuals. People, put in our path, because of the special needs of our child. Doctors, therapists, and of course the general population with all their stares, questions and random questions. All these interactions can impact our emotional stability. How are we supposed to react to unwarranted questions? What are we to say when past comments have left us drained? Even relationships with relatives, friends and casual acquaintance are impacted by the introduction of a special needs child into the family. Some of these interactions are positive, meaningful and add substance to our lives. Some of these interactions are toxic and eat at our very soul.
If only we had the choice to avoid the toxic encounters. To run away, hide or out maneuver. Sometimes we can change physicians, change teachers, or avoid a particular person. Or we can react. Our response to negative interactions can vary from raged anger to sympathy for those who just can’t walk in another’s shoes. From avoidance to pushing and shoving back. The response can vary for so many reasons. The encounters have spurred me to shoot off emails, I later regretted. To unleash the tigress in a mighty roar and/or to dive head first into changing situations. These confrontation have both emptied my soul and lead me to a better understanding of myself.
As the holidays approach our ability to control interactions with toxic others is limited by the season itself. The social expectations, the need to be part of a larger something, the wish to see and interact with those that fill us with warmth, prompt interactions with those that also leave us spinning out of control.
To survive I must find a way to keep my positive cup full or even overflowing. To not allow the holes of toxicity to empty me before I can refill or even plug the holes that drain. How is this possible?
Pre-planning, setting realistic expectations and having an escape route are possible options to help minimize the negative encounter.
Just as I don’t expect my special needs child to suddenly act his chronological age, or get over his obsessions. One can’t expect that socially awkward relative to suddenly think before his speaks, your mother to all of a sudden understand your parenting style or your sister to stop the sibling conflicts that been going on for the last 10 years. Some people are just fundamentally unable to change. To see the world from anyone’s views but their own. And you know what? They are not your responsibility.
You can only really control yourself. If you know an encounter will be stressful, strengthen your inner self prior to the visit. Fill yourself with positive feelings. Look for something entertaining. Even if it is focusing on that stupid tie Uncle Philip always wears. Think about how you and your friends will totally add this to the list of outrageous relative stories. When you get home, rant, rave and totally reward yourselves for dealing with Uncle Joe. Sometimes you deserve that Starbucks run!
It is a good idea to evaluate your part in a stressful relationship. I had a friend, Rebecca, who told the story of her son’s birth, ten years earlier. Her son was born three weeks early and with a disability. Dad and the sibling planned childcare provider were out-of-town. Here she was in the hospital, just hearing the news of her infant son’s struggles and drastic needs. The newborn was being packed for the ambulance ride to the local children’s hospital. She was desperately calling to try and find a person to pick up Maya, her 3-year-old daughter, from daycare. Her world was in turmoil and Maya need to be taken care of. Her first thought was to call her brother. His response…..the backyard fence had fallen down and he was not able to head to Maya’s daycare until after he got it fixed….. He did not want his dogs in the smaller pen overnight…… As she told the story, I could tell, she was harboring intense painful feelings about this significant event in her life. Yes, at that time, her brother was an ass! Or, maybe he was young and really not listening. Maybe, she was really not communicating. Who knows! However, it was obvious, she was letting this one experience drive her relationship with him. She had never dealt with the situation, never forgiven. Unspoken words can be as deadly as those spoken. Forgiveness and an understanding of past limitations may not lead to a the two becoming loving sibling; however, it may allow the toxic relationship to neutralize.
It may also help to analysis the interactions. Is the interaction or conversation a way for that person to build themselves up? Do they get power while putting others down? Are they so emotionally insecure that your success or positive attitude causes them deep despair? As with your child’s behavior, understanding what one attains from an interaction can help you develop a plan to navigate the situation more successfully. Use that behavior training for your advantage.
Taking control of the interactions and planning an escape may also be helpful. Flattery can be your best commodity. This is especially helpful if the person loves to talk about themselves. Take the upper hand and bring the conversation to their obsessions. Yes, you may hate to talk about their spoiled brat but it’s hard to tear someone down who has just complemented you on your child’s new shoes or is praising the appetizer provided for the event. If the conversation is veering toward your stress point, veer it back with something, anything, nice about them. Sudden topic changes can be a tool to head off unpleasantness. You can also keep the conversation short by having a back up escape plan. Restroom trips, a need to quench your or your child’s thirst or suddenly remembering you promised to help clear a table can be valuable ways to end an encounter. When you are in control, you have the power to navigate. Use that to your advantage.
Toxic encounters are always lurking.
Do not let them spoil holiday plans. Everyone deserves a little fun!
Think Ahead, Take Control , & Pre-Fill with Positive Encounters.