We tend to react to familiar situation in familiar ways. That’s clearly true any time we find ourselves back in a familiar situation – like celebrating a holiday with our family of origin or our in-laws.
Without thinking, old ingrained patterns of behavior kick in. When the pattern is constructive, the gathering tends to feel like the blessing and celebration of life it’s intended to be. But, when there is stress and strain in relationships, what could be a joyful time is marred by negativity.
So, if you’re thinking about how you can avoid family dysfunction this holiday season, look no further. Here are 5 tips for that will help you keep your holiday spirits bright.
1) Make conscious choices about how you react. If your experience of holiday gatherings is less than peaceful and enjoyable, this year instead of interacting and responding like you usually do to the stressors, make a conscious choice to do all you can to make the gathering you’re part of a positive experience – for yourself and everyone else.
At every turn, when old, familiar negative thoughts and reactions well up, ready to burst forth, before you respond, take a deep breath and remember your decision – your conscious choice – to do all you can to add peace and enjoyment to the gathering.
2) Set boundaries and share them. Setting boundaries is not easy. Your decision impacts others in the family or social group. It’s helpful to tell them, in advance, that cousin Robin will not be with us this year. Or what the new house rules are: a no shoes policy, no smoking in the house or no gifts. Giving your guests early notice about changes to traditions provides them an opportunity to get used to the idea or to decide they’d rather not join you this year.
When you set boundaries, the dynamics of the relationships may also change. Be ready to hear and accept other’s reactions. You don’t have to argue the point, agree, disagree or feel pressured to alter your decision. Simply acknowledge that you hear and understand how they feel. Then, be patient as everyone, including you, adjusts to the changes.
3) Remove yourself from caustic situations. If you experience the behavior of another as unkind, abusive or disrespectful, don’t hesitate to remove yourself from the environment.
Go to another room. Take a walk. Sit in your car. Drive around the block. If need be, excuse yourself from attending the gathering and find another time to connect with everyone.
4) Wait 2 minutes before responding to anything that infuriates you. This is a good practice in any situation. Reflex responses are often defensive and tend to escalate tensions, anxiety or anger. Take a few deep breaths. Go get a drink of water. Stand outside. Do something to clear your mind and allow your breathing to return to normal . . . a sign that you – the grown up, rational you – is back in control.
When you rejoin the setting, since the moment of tension has probably passed, no comment may be necessary. But, if you feel compelled to say something, remember the conscious choice you made to do all you can to add peace and enjoyment to the gathering. Respond with that in mind.
5) Use their actions as lessons on how NOT to be. Family and loved ones offer us a great opportunity to learn about ourselves and the limits we place on our willingness and capacity to demonstrate compassion and love.
Accept your family and friends as they are. Many holiday fights and frustrations come about because we want our loved ones to be different than they are. We CANNOT control how others behave so don’t even try.
Remember, at the heart of every individual and family is a real need for love and acceptance. This holiday season, and every day, consciously decide to bring love, peace, compassion, acceptance and enjoyment to life – yours and everyone around you.