Home for the holidays. For some people walking up the doorstep of their childhood home brings fond memories and fills their hearts with joy. For others the experience can be enough to create a panic attack. Not everyone finds the holidays to be something to look forward to. Some people approach Thanksgiving and Christmas with dread.
Which are you?
If you are the person who feels the holidays can be intense, having a plan ahead of time can relieve some of the stress. You may experience elevated anxiety along with fears from past experiences and may react to unrealistic expectations put on you by yourself and others. The past may influence how you feel, but with a plan, you can control those feelings and have a better outcome. Sometimes, when we realize others are handicapped it's easier to deal with them. After all, when a person is in a wheelchair, we don't expect them to get up and run, and sometimes emotionally, people have handicaps as well. They never learned compassion, empathy, or how to encourage others because they may not have received it themselves. We can't give to others something we don't possess. So, the ones who have the skills should use the skills, not throw them away in times of adversity.
Let me explain.
I counsel clients to set a time limit for exposing themselves to difficult situations. I had one client who felt obligated to attend a holiday gathering and experienced panic attacks just thinking about it. Last year during the same holiday, a family fight broke out and he was injured both physically and emotionally. He did not want a repeat of last year as the same people would be attending. I offered that he make his attendance conditional and when the offending party arrived, he and his family would leave. My client never even considered he had the option to leave and was greatly relieved when he developed a plan.
If you have an uncle, mother, father, or siblings who constantly criticize you, put you down, and belittle you in front of others, instead of fighting against the commentary and getting upset (which only fuels the fight), smile, pat them on the shoulder, and walk away. If things become more intense, you can always leave. When you make the decision to remove the option to stay and fight, the option to leave becomes easier. There is no time limit to how long someone must remain in a difficult situation. Plan to arrive, mingle, eat, and leave. If you plan to leave early, don't drink alcohol. If you are having a good time, stay longer. If you are feeling tense, adjust your plan accordingly.
If you see in others' behaviors that you wish they would change, respond the way you wish they would. You might be teaching someone something they never knew. If you want them to respect your boundaries, respect theirs. If you want them to be kind, respond kindly. If you want them to understand you, seek understanding first. We are all broken people and the unrealistic holiday expectations that we place on others needs to start with our own expectations being lowered. When we expect too much, everything that is not realized becomes a disappointment. When we don't expect much, we can feel appreciation for more. Give grace, focus on the blessings, and choose to cherish the gifts you have, even if they are found in places beyond your family home.
This holiday season remember to be a blessing to others. Try to end the time on a positive note even if you are leaving early. Smile, hug, and thank the host for their generosity. You will be remembered fondly long after you leave.
"The one who blesses others is abundantly blessed;
those who help others are helped."
Proverbs 11:25 (MSG)