The holiday season can be a stressful time as families gather together. Emotions run high, expectations go into overload and not everyone brings their best self to the table.
Here are some suggestions that will help you enjoy your meal instead of biting your tongue or gritting your teeth to get through!
Be Proactive, Not Reactive
Before your family event, it is helpful to choose an intention or value that will guide you in all your interactions.
Ask yourself: “How do I want to be?” or “What’s most important today?”
Sometimes a memorable phrase is helpful. You might choose “cheerful and calm”, “look for the beauty” or “this too shall pass” if it’s very challenging!
Prepare Instead of Repair
If you find that the same questions, comments, or criticisms always come up at family gatherings, it is useful to be proactive and prepare yourself instead of impulsively reacting in the moment.
Memorise your planned responses and practice them so that you don’t get flustered and are able to respond clearly and calmly.
Nonviolent Communication teacher, Oren Jay Sofer, offers these great suggestions:
“There’s a lot in what you just said. I need a moment to gather my thoughts.”
“I’m not sure. I’d prefer to talk about that some other time.”
“I’m not in the best frame of mind to talk about that right now. How about we…”
“Things feel really heated. Let’s take a break on this topic for a little while.”
“I’d love to focus on enjoying one another’s company tonight. Let’s talk about…”
You Have Two Ears and One Mouth
When we take the time to listen to someone, it doesn’t mean that we have to agree with everything they say.
I have found that when people feel listened to, often their bravado or anger starts to dissipate and they are then open to listening to others.
A fundamental practice of Nonviolent Communication is Empathic Listening. This means listening without judgment or evaluation and looking beyond what is being verbally expressed to what lies beneath the words.
Read the Needs
Rather than focusing on the drama and frustration that family get-togethers can sometimes illicit, this year try to get curious about the needs that rest beneath the words and behaviour of others (and yourself!)
Remember our feelings are messengers. What unmet need could be at the root of their outlook or opinion or even your response to them? How are these needs being expressed?
When we see our interactions through this lens, we are able to get a sense of the shared humanity in our universal needs. This gives us a valuable opportunity for genuine connection.
Respect and Connect (and sometimes deflect) rather than Dissect
Yes, it’s a mouthful but an important reminder!
Compassionate Communication helps us to respond respectively in potential conflict situations, standing firm with dignity in our truth without compromising our own needs. No blame or shame!
Respect where each person is at on their own journey and remember that some people are more evolved than others in their self-awareness and emotional literacy.
Try to establish some connection, however small, even if all you can muster is an empathic smile and nod instead of trying to dissect their reasoning or opinions and argue your case.
Know When To Go Slow
I’ve written about taking it SLOW in this blog post and it useful to remember during the holiday season. It helps us to keep calm and notice the stories we are telling ourselves about what is happening and how we are interpreting it. Then we are better able to look at the situation objectively and formulate a “When” statement without judgment.
That said, sometimes we need to remove ourselves from potential confrontation, especially if it feels unsafe or there are destruction patterns of relating that the other person is not willing or able to address.
Nonviolent Communication is not a one-time-fix-it-all for our complex relationships but it is a powerful and valuable tool that helps us to be gentle with ourselves and others. It encourages us to look beyond the superficial to find the shared humanity that connects us.
May this holiday season be an opportunity for self-reflection, growth, and healing for you all!