For some of us, spending ANY time around extended family can be a little like pulling a scab off an old wound. Even if you do manage to avoid tough family dynamics during the year, the holidays are typically a time where all your efforts to make peace can come to a screeching halt. Before you sit down to the table with the sister you can’t see eye-to-eye with, the in-law whose politics are way over the top or the parent who always seems to find a way to make you feel like you’ll never measure up, let me give you some tips to give you some hope. The fact is it’s absolutely possible to survive the holidays and keep your sanity. Your life doesn’t have to be an emotional train wreck for the next few weeks – if you’re willing to embrace a few mindset shifts.
Your life doesn’t have to be an emotional train wreck through the holidays – if you’re willing to embrace a few mindset shifts. Click To Tweet
Mindset shift #1: No expectations.
If you spend a lot of energy trying to psych yourself up for family gatherings by telling yourself “everything will be fine,” then this is one of the first thinking patterns you’ll need to interrupt.
You’ve been in your family long enough to know that everything will probably not be fine.
People will undoubtedly say things that offend. . .
Someone will slight you without thinking. . .
You will suddenly revert to the angst and pressure you felt as a teen. . .
There’s a body of scientific work behind the power of memory, but what is important for you to know is this: The emotions you experienced in childhood are usually right below the surface. And unless you’ve intentionally built new experiences and new emotions, one trigger around the holiday table will unleash all the emotional reactions you have been bottling up since childhood.
This is why you find yourself falling back into old patterns the minute you sit down to your first bite of fruit cake – because our brains and memories produce a kind of physiological memory, too. Our brains and bodies react to situations in the ways they’ve been conditioned to react. So, if you want to experience change, you’ve got to challenge your old ways of thinking and behaving.
If you’re new to this and you’re just about to step into the family boxing ring, then try this before you do: Take off your boxing gloves and enter the family gathering with ZERO expectations of how it will be. Put all your energy into focusing on being present, instead of resisting the reality of whatever you happen to walk into.
Mindset shift #2: Don’t engage with what’s toxic.
When you’re triggered, your emotional reaction is going to pressure the hell out of you to launch into a full-on fight or flight mode. But when you give yourself permission to take a time out, you’re making room for clarity and neutrality.
Find yourself in the middle of a tough conversation? Instead of firing back when you’re upset, consider something like, “I’m not really sure how I feel about this right now. Let me think about it and follow up with you later.”
Heart racing with feelings of inadequacy and shame? Try focusing on your breathing and take a hard look at your emotions through the filter of inauthentic vs. authentic emotions. I’ve written a lot about the ways to deal with difficult emotions and difficult people. For some practical guidance and a few additional resources, take a look at three of my favorites:
- The Lies Our Emotions Tell Us
- Stop Taking On The Stress of Others
- Toxic Relationship? Here’s What to Do (Without Losing Your Sanity)
Most importantly, be willing to give your emotional wave time to subside. For small triggers, you may only need a few minutes. But if you’re facing a real mega trigger, you might need a few days (or more) before your emotional wave has stopped pounding against your sanity.
This holiday season, let this be your guide and see what happens: Be patient. Give yourself time. Don’t feel obligated to respond.
Mindset shift #3: Keep a filter handy.
In Byron Katie’s The Work, she teaches 4 critical questions that can be used to guide us through some of our deepest pains.
- Is it true?
- Can you absolutely know that it’s true?
- How do you react, what happens when you believe that thought?
- Who would you be without the thought?
It’s that last question that can shine a light in the darkest moment. When you focus on the facts of a situation and acknowledge that the narrative you introduce into each situation might not be accurate, you’re acknowledging that a lifetime of fears and struggle are coloring your present perception. When you can step outside of those fears and insecurities, you’ll find yourself in the place you need to be in order to grow and thrive.
Here’s to the start of a new and improved kind of holiday season where you make peace your priority and in the process discover there’s much more to you and your family than your past hurts and heartbreaks.
Take good care : )