By Clinical Psychologist, Kylie Layton
Christmas time is a special time of year for many people. It’s a time to relax and rejuvenate, and be with loved ones to celebrate the past year and the New Year to come. We look forward to this time and often have hopes and expectations about what Christmas will be like. But along with this excitement and happy expectation comes a lot of other things that may or may not be as enjoyable. Think busy shopping centres, financial expense, planning and organisation, adherence to family ‘traditions’ and interactions with extended family.
We all know the Hollywood Christmas day ideal of the loving family happily gathered around the Christmas tree, but more realistically family relationships can be complicated and approaching Christmas festivities can seem daunting. So how do we survive the family at Christmas and still have the kind of Christmas we’d like?
Here are a few tips that may help you to navigate the interactions at this year’s family festivities.
1. Reflect on what’s important. Research shows that having an awareness of your own set of personal values is like having an internal compass. If we can focus on our values in stressful situations, we are more likely to make effective decisions and choose appropriate behaviours in line with living these values. So consider what matters to you most this Christmas. Then consider how you can apply this to your family gatherings to avoid getting caught up in anything unpleasant.
2. Practice acceptance. We often have that Hollywood ideal in our head and have expectations of a joyous occasion. For many families that is a reality, but for some relationships are strained by the stress of entertaining and perhaps a little too much Christmas cheer! Be prepared to accept that the day may not always go as well as planned.
3. Pick your battles. Based on your values and expectations of the day, it can help to consider what you are willing to overlook because it’s Christmas. For example, you may be ok to ignore Uncle Tom’s sexist comment but need to intervene when Grandad wants to give your two year old some wine. Christmas isn’t the best time of year to confront someone, so ignore what you can, politely change the topic or move away where appropriate without compromising your personal boundaries.
4. Have a plan if you need to. Have a loose strategy going into family situations regarding how you are going to apply those values and boundaries. Having a strategy could also mean having a plan around how to deal with a person you have previously found difficult, or developing a mindset to help manage interactions. Often it helps to remember that you have little or no control over another person’s behaviour and that any unpleasantness on their behalf is more a sign of something that they have going on than anything to do with you.
5. Don’t be afraid to take some space. Research shows that walking away and taking time to calm down is far more effective in the management of emotion charged situations than pushing forward for a solution. Our brains find it hard to think calmly and clearly when we are emotional. We need to give the emotion time to reduce before we are likely to be effective in reaching a solution.
6. Try to accept people where they’re at. None of us are perfect and we all make mistakes. Research on self-acceptance and self-compassion shows that when we are able to connect to that shared imperfection, we have the ability to not only be more accepting of ourselves and our own short-comings, but be more empathetic to those around us as well. Everyone has a history, a story, and reasons behind their behaviour. Their behaviour choices may not be appropriate or pleasant but, where we can, Christmas can be a great time to aim to accept the flaws in our family, highlight their strengths and take them just as they are.
We don’t get to pick our family and therefore it is unreasonable to expect everyone to get along. What we can hope for is for people to be accepting, considerate, and to make an effort to make this emotion charged and expectation filled day an ok experience for all. You may need to stand firm, you may need to take a break, or you may just need to lead the way with a bit of Christmas compassion and smile and move on!
Best wishes for the festive season!
For more information on Kylie and our team of Psychologists visit our website www.psychologyconsultants.com.au