“One down, two to go!” is the sad summary of how too many people feel as they get past Thanksgiving, the first of the three holidays celebrated by most at year’s end.
Similarly, many of my students, as they were preparing to head back home for the Christmas break, shared how they were actually rehearsing the excuses they wanted to have at the ready to cut their stays short.
“If my father asks me once more what job I expect to have after graduation, I’m leaving the house,” and “If my mother comments on my having ‘yet another boyfriend,’ I am out of there,” were representative of some of the concerns they had.
Generalized anxiety can put a grievous damper on the wonderful festivities that are a natural part of the celebrations to come. Amotivation — that sorry state of affairs where a feeling of “I can’t handle this” permeates one’s thinking — needs to be addressed in some households more than others, but it occurs, at least at some level, in many families.
Those who work in the demanding world of businesses and organizations generally have the opportunity to develop a skill set that equips them to positively impact many — even those in their own families. Listening, speaking assertively, acting empathically and seeking to resolve disagreements are abilities that are often acquired as one endeavors to succeed in the day-to-day world of work.
Especially at this time of year, a flurry of columns in newspapers and magazines readily prescribe “what to do” to cope with stressful holiday gatherings, without addressing core issues behind the matter. After all, is it reasonable for an adult to be driven out of the house by the mere thought of a verbal disagreement with a relative? An underlying cause in this motivational puzzle appears to be that the anticipated disapproval by another creates pain or anxiety at a level that is high enough to evoke an emotional overreaction. That is something that is deserving of, at the very least, some self-reflection.
For individuals who have difficulty controlling their emotional reactions, clear thinking is a path to a solution. Imagine that you are not in a family gathering, but instead in a discussion with a customer, perhaps who is speaking provocatively. Would you run out of the office yelling? Or would you engage those finely-honed listening skills and then speak in a professional, calming tone and assertively and logically guide the conversation? In the case of a customer (they are “always right”, you know), you have trained yourself, or have been brought around to, trying to understand the position being taken and look for ways to resolve the situation.
So, given that one knows how to do these things in a client setting, how is it that this conciliatory approach is too infrequently taken in a family setting? A key to enjoying time with family is having the right emotional and psychological posture. Rather than bracing for the worst, try embracing the best. The people present over the holidays likely have been important sources of joy in the years gone by. Respect their opinions even if they are considerably different than your own.
Delighting in differences frees you up to hear and learn or to simply examine unusual contrasts in others’ expressed thoughts. Instead of treating those differing notions as threatening, why not try to consider these new ideas, or how you might work on your skills of gentle persuasion and win some folks over in the process?
Best wishes for a Merry Christmas and a joyful holiday season.