Negotiating Past Family Drama During the Holidays
It’s holiday season! Does that fill you with joy? Or, if you’re being really honest with yourself, does the thought of family drama fill you with dread? If the latter, you’re not alone. The expectation of a Hallmark holiday experience adds pressure. In fact, it can exacerbate stress and negative feelings as we measure ourselves against an unachievable standard and feel like we’re falling short.
Families are typically one of our greatest sources of negative triggers. There is so much history and unresolved baggage, we can revert to old patterns that don’t serve us. Even in advance of the encounters, we often waste valuable time and emotional energy worrying about these expected unpleasant exchanges.
Added to that, we are living in polarizing times and there is a seemingly limitless list of potentially sensitive topics to navigate. It can feel like a minefield.
In this mini-series, I’ll lay out a few tips to help you navigate the holidays to minimize family drama … or at least your engagement in the drama. Contrary to popular belief, you can take control of your holiday experience. In this Part, we’ll set the stage with some foundational items.
I Recognize that you’re in a negotiation
The first step is to recognize that you’re in a negotiation. All of life is a negotiation, whether it’s with yourself, your kids, your intimate partner, or crabby Aunt Jane. We often fail to see these personal relationships as requiring negotiations. That failure will be to your detriment.
II Recognize that you may experience the full range of emotions
Expectations of perpetual bliss are not realistic and make us judge ourselves harshly, causing even more angst in a vicious downward spiral. As humans, we’re complicated creatures with a wide and varied range of emotional notes. It’s normal to experience the full range of these emotions.
Holidays can bring up old baggage, and with it, feelings of fear, angst, anger, guilt, worry, and trepidation … along with joy, gratitude, etc. Recognizing that this is normal helps minimize the self-flagellation.
Recognize too that:
lost loved ones may be felt more keenly during the holidays,
past hurts are more likely to pop up uninvited,
feelings of inadequacy or ‘not enough-ness’ try to niggle into our consciousness,
imperfect aspects of our lives may become magnified (as we try to portray an Instagram version of our lives to family and others),
pet peeves can become exacerbated, and
scarcity mindset stress can blow up.
But fear not! Take heart! There are simple steps to help manage these pesky unexpected emotional uprisings.
III Negotiate Your Mindset
Choose how you want to show up. Decide who you want to be during this holiday season. An easy trick to live into this powerful practice is to choose 3 words that describe how you want to show up (for yourself and in your interactions with others). There’s no right or wrong answer. For you, maybe it’s ‘present, engaged and peaceful’. Or maybe you’re shooting for ‘joy, bliss and grace’. Or perhaps ‘bold, excited and grateful’ best hits the mark for you. Choose whatever resonates with you. You can even customize your 3 words depending on the occasion and/or who you’re seeing.
If you find yourself being reactive during the day, that’s okay. You’re human. Don’t beat yourself up. Just take a moment to ground yourself. Pause. Take a deep breath. Breathe in your 3 words and find your way back.
IV Set an Intention
Setting an intention about what you want to get out of the holidays helps you stay on track to enhance your experience and reduces the likelihood of getting embroiled in family drama. When you don’t approach the holidays with intention, it’s easy to get caught up in the spectacle of family dysfunction. It’s also more likely you’ll get swirled into the whirlwind of commercialism and a ‘more’ mentality that can leave you feeling hollow and dissatisfied. Likewise, without intentionality, you can get sucked into the abyss of comparison, always finding yourself falling short against some imaginary standard.
By contrast, if your intention is to spend quality time with family and/or friends, you can focus on making time for those people you want to spend time with, embracing the experience rather than focusing on things. If cooking a full turkey spread stresses you out, do pizza. If high end hostess skills leave you sweating, do simple, and focus on being fully present instead.
V Embrace the Gift of Gratitude
The good news is that it’s impossible to feel resentment, hurt or anger when you’re in a state of gratitude. The better news is that you can adopt a gratitude practice anytime and anywhere. I love implementing a routine each morning and evening where I consider 3 things I’m grateful for in that moment. It’s an easy way to set a positive tone for embracing the holidays.
And if you find yourself in the middle of an emerging family drama moment, you can pause and find something you can be grateful for in that moment. There will always be things you can be grateful for in life. It can be as basic as the feel of the wind against your face or the warmth of the sun through the window. Or perhaps a tender thought for someone in your life.
I hope at least a few of these starter tips resonate with you and can set you on the path to a more joyful holiday experience. Be sure to check out next week’s article for Part II of the series where we’ll tackle more hot tips to help you negotiate past family drama during the holidays (an Achilles heel for many at this time of year).
And be sure to share this series with anyone in your life who could benefit from a survival toolkit on how to negotiate the holiday season.
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