Holidays are a popular time to connect with family and close friends. That’s a good thing, right? So how come it’s such a common source of stress and anxiety? Because nobody but nobody pushes our buttons like the near and dear. Let’s face it–imminent reunions can conjure mixed feelings– even dread or fear. But why? Rules of civility that apply as we interact with others in our daily lives somehow get thrown out the window when it’s family-of-origin time. Does your clan engage in bad behavior when they convene? Perhaps suddenly, teasing, sarcasm and below-the-belt jokes are fair game. Insults- subtle or not so subtle, might be tossed around. Competition and rivalry may ensue. Insecurities surface like annual clockwork. Sensitivity is on steroids and everyone’s got issues. Sound familiar?
One explanation is that we tend to fall back into old patterns that were in play as children, when we’re in the company of those with whom we grew up. We’re prone to emotionally regress and adopt a former, and yes–immature– way of relating. It’s like your child self recognizes the familiar dynamic you grew up with and your behavior adapts to fit the old mold. Subconsciously, you fall into that childhood role that never really felt good in the first place. For example, if you felt ignored and overlooked as the “invisible middle child,” you might feel offended when you’re the only one who doesn’t get stuffing on your plate. These kinds of triggers may sound silly, but the feelings that go with them are real, so we might as well prepare to deal with it.
Yes, the extended family get together offers a minefield of drama. And yet, it’s all worth it, if our enjoyment trumps all. If, on the other hand, you face a situation that poses you harm or could be considered abuse, then it’s perfectly within reason to decline. A sense of obligation to tradition has to be weighed against safety and self-preservation. Do not feel obligated to subject yourself to emotional, verbal or physical abuse. The following tips are meant for the typical holiday trappings that afflict us on the order of a common cold. For more serious stuff, seek support and feel free to steer clear. You must take care of yourself. That said, let’s address run of the mill holiday nonsense.
Traditional family gatherings can push us into old roles and patterns that do not feel relevant to who we are today. And yet, maintaining our ties with relatives is important. Here’s a month’s worth of suggestions to help you tip the scale to positive:
- Anchor in your best self, even as they make waves.
- Set the intention to enjoy yourself. Yes, insist on having a good time!
- Bring out the best in others and notice how they do the same for you.
- Observe the old patterns in play. Don’t engage automatically. Instead, watch it all go down and be detached–even amused.
- Don’t try to change, fix or save anyone. You can’t. Besides, trying to do so suggests they’re broken and you’re superior.
- Be yourself. If you’re not the person you once were, let them see who you are now. They will adapt–eventually.
- Expect someone to behave badly. Don’t let it bring you down. (And don’t let it be you!)
- Add your input to the mix. Someone else will be grateful if you follow your desire for fun. Build an igloo–mix it up.
- Pause before you speak. If what you say might be offensive, skip it. Be funny, sure, but not at someone else’s expense.
- Listen more than talk. Don’t be the one to dominate the dinner table conversation. Contribute to the balance.
- If drama stirs up, don’t get in the middle. Those who have conflict with each other need to deal directly with each other.
- Don’t be preachy. Remember that, as Emerson said, “Every man I meet is in some way my superior.” Learn, as well as teach.
- Practice receiving a compliment. Instead of giving 3 reasons why it’s really not a cute haircut, just say “Thanks.”
- Surprise relatives with random acts of kindness. Wash the dishes. Hold the door. Recycle the wrapping paper.
- Express appreciation. Tell a family member what you’ve always admired about them. As in, “You’re my role model for courage, Aunt Suze.”
- Check judgment at the door. It’s not your job to critique your kin. And the less you judge them, the more you’re off the hook.
- Focus on the positives. Search out what you love about each person in your midst and focus upon that.
- Feel your power. You can create a better experience this year for everyone, with the attitude you bring. It’ll be contagious.
- Speak your truth. Make sure your words are aligned with who you really are. Authenticity is more important than pleasing others.
- Lighten up. Don’t let the slightest thing ruffle your feathers. Shake it off.
- Do something different. (Surprise them with your edible gingerbread castle.) Or better yet, just BE different. In a good way.
- Pick a virtue to embody on an occasion or throughout the season. Ground in gratitude or adopt a posture of patience, perhaps.
- Remember, if someone acts out, it’s not about you. It’s about them. It’s their stuff–don’t take it personally.
- Consider how, at times, it might be you. Your stuff. If so, be self-aware enough to own it. Make a private plan to deal with your reactivity, temper, resentment–or whatever it is that arises. Enlist a therapist as your holiday gift to self.
- Don’t participate in toxic patterns such as co-dependence. Take steps to dismantle toxic entanglement.
- Think of someone you admire and bring that role model with you, in your heart and mind. Embody those qualities you aspire to have yourself, as you mix and mingle.
- Experiment. Challenge yourself to interact differently. For example–how deeply can you listen? How positive can you be?
- Play. Even as you consciously choose to act as an adult when childhood ways threaten to set you back, you gotta allow for the magic and wonder to bewitch you.
- Instead of assuming it’ll be the same old thing, wipe the slate clean and allow for a totally new experience. Relate in a fresh way and watch your optimism snowball.
- Consider it a spiritual training ground. If you can let your highest self shine around your family of origin, you can pretty much do it with anyone.
- Congratulate yourself for creating a more enjoyable way to relate that you can build upon in years to come.
This just might be the best holiday season ever. Good luck with that zany cast of characters you call family. And enjoy!