Hi Adam, I am also faced with this situation. I am doing everything you write here and it helps a lot, but I feel like I am thrown back into being a sulky teenager around my mother who is a very anxious person, negative and I find it hard to express love towards her and my father. I feel sullen instead of the joyful person I am when they are not around. I am observing all of this happening. But I want to feel joy around them, but comments or interference from them or my siblings makes me immediately defensive. How can I still be loving towards them when faced with feelings of dislike?
Hi Deborah, since this response ended up being quite long, I split it into sections:
Don't Try To Feel Differently
Your expectation and desire to not feel sullen and to instead feel open and loving is what creates most trouble. If you fully allowed yourself to feel sullen, closed or defensive, without believing that you should feel differently, then you may witness a miracle inside. Forget everything you have been told about how you should love people, not be defensive etc. Give yourself a break and stop expecting anything from yourself.
Your resistance to feeling sullen or closed down is what perpetuates it and keeps it alive. If you not only observed these feelings, but accepted them as if you wanted them to be there (which I realise is counterintuitive) - this is the energy that creates healing and peace. If you ever wish to feel differently than you do, this just creates more conflict and maintenance of sorrow.
These emotions you feel are old energies that live in the body and seek to be maintained. They actually love when the parents show up, when the siblings make comments, because it means the energies can renew themselves.
Don't Force Anything
Don't force anything. The inner love is there, inseparable from your own Self, and need not be manufactured. As you are aware, the surface feelings (even if they actually feel deep-rooted) of dislike and resistance are what cover up your natural state which naturally is love itself. Having said that, this does not mean you will be expressing love to everyone in the same way. If someone has heavy layers of anxiety or negativity in them, you will likely not relate to them the same way as you would some divine being with no personal cover-ups. Interactions are energetic. You may naturally not feel drawn to engage much with a negative person, it may even feel as if you overlook their existence – but this is only because you see no value in the negativity they carry. This is not rude, and if anything, is beneficial for both of you. Let interaction take care of itself, you need not judge it or police it in any way.
Self-Preserving Energy Fields
The energy in you that is heavy and negative is no different to the energy in family members that makes you feel sullen or closed. The energy in one triggers another, and they feed off each other. It is not personal, but is more like life-forms of energy seeking to preserve themselves. Notice that it is not strictly true that you mother is a negative person. It is more true to say that your mother is possessed by a negative person. The negative person has taken over, and the true being is lying asleep beneath the surface.
In the same way - you are not sullen, but the sullen sensation is there. You do not become a sulky teenager, but the sensation of a sulky teenager arises. When you have the attitude of "come, let me watch you" to these negative feelings inside, rather than "how can I stop feeling like this" - then you become an inner alchemist. If the inner energies want to flare up, judge, blame, criticise or tell stories - let it all happen without reservation, but see it only as an energy field that seeks to maintain itself, rather than believing it to be the reality of what you are.
Don't Be Sure That Thoughts Are True
It also helps if you allow thoughts to arise without automatically believing they are true. If you can’t tell which thought carries truth and which does not, this is ideal. In fact no thought can represent absolute truth, but without your automatic belief in thoughts that arise, intuition can take over - which does not create suffering for you. Just to be unsure about the truth of thought, without trying to be sure, is enough to reduce their sting and sticking power.
The Person Arises In You
As you have eluded to - the feelings take over the personality, they take over the thoughts of "me" and turn this “me” into an unhappy person rather than a happy one. Neither person is who you are, since you watch them both come and go. One has more baggage of course and is more heavy, but both are limitations, conceptual selves, rather than the awareness in which they both arise - which is what you are.
You may also notice that before feeling defensive, you feel vulnerable. Something inside feels as if it will be attacked, and it fears destruction. If this is the case, fully allow yourself to feel vulnerable. It is only the false in you that feels vulnerable, since only the false can be destroyed. Therefore allow vulnerability, and you may find the urge to defend becomes less intense. Instead you can allow your family members to be like vicious gurus, tearing down the house of the ego.
So in summary - don't try to feel different. Love can only emerge when you are no longer in conflict with your inner state. This means allowing feelings to be as they are without trying to change them. Paradoxically, when you no longer wish the feelings to be different, they lose their power, and instantly you are no longer in conflict. All ease, peace and natural tolerance arise from here.
I hope the response helps somehow, and thanks for your contribution to the site.
If you found this article on negative family members was resonating with you, you might also enjoy my eBook "Undisturbed A Guide To Emotional Wellness" for more ways to deal with negativity within yourself or others...