The holidays are always a sensitive time for everyone: hyped to the max with commercialism, criss-crossed with meaningful moments of poignant beauty, and an over-abundance of food … or lack thereof, added to which are the difficulties of winter weather, stress, bank-breaking expense, crowds and way too much traffic. Add to that the element of family reunions. It’s a perfect storm!
The warm fuzzy sentiment that surrounds the holidays is something we all hope will manifest in the reality of Thanksgiving and Christmas. It’s rarely a match. Too often tempers are hair-trigger, and people either check out, lash out, melt down or bag up their feelings altogether. “Peace on earth good will toward men” too often ends with arguments and blame in the family circle. Families and holidays are not always the joy they’re knocked up to be.
So how can this situation be remedied? Well, one good way is knowing how to remain grounded and fight fair, keeping in mind that the people involved are (hopefully) not hardened criminals but members of your FAMILY, and that it’s more important to salvage the family bond than to emerge triumphant in order to have the last word. We teach others how to treat us or allow their offenses to happen to us. So, to that end, here are some good ways to fight fair. I learned them back in the ’70s when I went through many workshops of personal growth at Esalen Institute in Big Sur, CA. In the heat of the moment, I usually forget to employ them, but when I do use them they always serve me well.
1/ Anger must be expressed otherwise it festers and comes out later as dis-ease. I find the best way to express my anger is to write it out on paper, every last bit of it, then mindfully (and safely) burn the paper as a symbol of “letting go.” If you have a trusted saint of a friend, you can also talk his or her ear off to dissipate your anger. But I find writing to be more satisfying for you can divulge all your hateful secrets onto the paper which will then turn to ash. And remember, at the core of anger is HURT. Address the hurt.
2/ If you find yourself in a situation of blame, say to the person “Here’s what I hear you saying; here’s how I interpret what you’re saying; and here’s how I feel about what you’re saying.”
3/ Then do a role reversal wherein each person takes on the role of the other and fights like hell in defense of that point of view. This is incredibly revealing of what you each do and don’t know about one another. It fosters empathy and compassion which is always a good thing.
3/ Lastly, at the end of a long blame-a-rama, substitute the word “you” with the word “I”. This throws the whole attack into a different light.
I share these tools of navigating anger because it’s obvious we are experiencing very dark times filled with violence, anger and lack of compassion. At our core, all people the world over want the same thing: to be respected, understood and loved. These simple tools are a big step forward toward that end.
‘Tis the season …