I don't know why exactly, but I have heard it over and over again that the holidays seem to bring out the worst in some families. Here are jus some of the things my clients and customers have relayed to me about holiday gatherings - and I'm not making this stuff up:
- I hold my anger in all year until right about Christmas time - and then when the whole family gets together, usually someone says something that is like, "the last straw", and I just explode! I lambaste the whole family and then I'm good for another year.
- Every time our family gets together, it always becomes a contest about who was treated the worst, who had the most unhappy childhood, and who was daddy's favourite.
- I hate family get togethers - my brother always says something unsavoury or rude, and it just ruins the whole thing!
- I would rather spend Christmas on the other side of the world, alone - than spend it with my family. They make me feel so unloved and unwanted.
That's pretty depressing, isn't it! Yet, a vast majority of people reading this can relate, and may even be nodding their heads in agreement with some of the above statements! So - how do we get through the holidays unscathed? Here are some tips for surviving holiday stress and beating holiday anger - the Anger Solutions way.
- Remember the reason for the season. The holidays are not about presents. They are not about airing family grievances. They are not even about the turkey and the trimmings. The holidays are about honouring your faith, and spending quality time with the ones that you love as you celebrate. Keep your focus on the reason why your family is coming together, rather than all the horrid memories of Christmases past.
- Consider your desired outcomes. We teach this until we're blue in the face with Anger Solutions: your events PLUS your responses equal your outcomes. The challenge is that too often, we don't pre-consider what outcomes we would like to achieve. Ask yourself: "How would I like this Christmas or holiday gathering to turn out?" "What's the best way to ensure that my outcomes are realized?" Decide in advance, what measures you can take to do an end-run around those who would attempt to derail your plans. My number one priority outcome is always to create great memories. If that is your priority outcome, how can you make that happen? That brings us to our next strategy:
- Solicit partners in positive outcomes. Do you like the ring of that? Partners in positive outcomes. Talk to your family members BEFORE your big event. Be honest about your misgivings and state your expectations. Go beyond asking questions about who is bringing the sweet potatoes or the dessert. It might sound something like this: "So Christmas dinner is at our house this year, and I know we all want to have a really great time. What I'm hoping for is that we can all put aside any of the family stuff that we deal with all the rest of the year, and just really enjoy each other's company."
- If there is a particular family member who tends to be the instigator, prepare a plan for how you will deal with this individual's behaviour. You may want to be proactive, and address them prior to the get-together in the hopes that they will agree to be on their best behaviour. Another approach is to call them on their behaviour as soon as they begin with their typical antics. Do this by calling them aside privately - no need to embarrass them or the rest of the family. Very gently and compassionately identify the behaviour that is problematic and request that they discontinue the behaviour for the rest of the evening. E.g. "Mom, I know that you want to be involved in the preparation of the food, and I'm grateful that you're here to help, but when you openly criticize my cooking in front of the family, I feel minimized and belittled. I'm guessing that others here might feel uncomfortable when that happens as well. I'm sure you don't mean to do that, but that is how I feel all the same. So I'm asking you if you would be kind enough to keep your criticisms to yourself for the rest of the night - I would really appreciate that." Other approaches may be to ban the "meddling" instigators from the kitchen under the premise that they deserve to relax and mingle while the last minute preparations are taken care of. This always works better when two or more people deliver the same message.
- Be prepared for awkward moments. If you follow this blog, then you know you have seen the TSA model before, but it will really help you if you find yourself experiencing a frustration signal during your family get togethers. Here it is again in a nutshell: THINK - What is happening? What does it mean? How do I feel about it? How would I like this to be resolved? What should I do next? SAY - "I feel... I need... I would like... " Here's a little tip - rather than saying, "Please don't" - identify the exact behaviour that you would like to see instead. It keeps the conversation positive, and also clarifies your expectations for the other person. ASK - "Can you see where I'm coming from?" "How can we work together to help everyone have a really great time tonight?" Get the other individual involved in the problem solving process and you will get through even the awkward moments - AND you'll do it together.
- Develop a structure for the evening. It doesn't have to be a fully programmed dinner party; however, it may be more enjoyable and less stressful if you have a basic idea of how the evening will flow. Here's an example:
- start with appetizers of course - people can mingle, listen to music, get caught up with each other while the last minute meal prep is being taken care of. Ensure that the beverages and finger foods are NOT in the kitchen area, so you can minimize traffic through your workspace. You may want to have some space set aside for the kids/youth in the family so that they can hang out, play games, watch TV or socialize while they wait for the food to be served as well. Once dinner is over, the designated cleanup crew clears the tables and gets them prepped for dessert. You may want to bring out some games (quiet ones at this point) - card games, chinese checkers, battleship, etc. for people to play. There are of course lots of new fun games on the market that engage conversation, and can be played by a large number of people. These are ideal to hel people stay focused on having fun, rather than wanting to bring up old family grievances. If there is a time for gift giving, designate a time for this as well.
I trust you will find this advice helpful as you prepare to go full steam ahead into the holidays. Above all else, remember the reason for the season - that is my first and last piece of advice to you. Have a Merry Christmas, a Happy Holiday, and above all, be blessed!