The holidays herald a cornucopia of social gatherings with family, friends and colleagues. Personal schedules intensify with structured fun consisting of conversations filled with pleasantries as well as sprinkled with barbs. Sitting next to Aunt Helen during a holiday meal might spoil your appetite when she asks you, “Are you REALLY trying to find a new job?” or when your mother wonders out loud, “Should YOU be eating such a big piece of pumpkin pie?” it is in your best interest to perceive them as well-intentioned and caring.
From an evolutionary standpoint human survival has always depended on our ability to get along with others. Staying together and cooperating while hunting, cultivating crops, protecting each other from physical danger or supporting one another emotionally and creating social contracts is a necessity. Because it is human nature to transgress against the people closest to us, reconciliation must follow. Note that according to positive movement researchers like Dr. Martin Seligman, unresolved conflict, particularly in families and close friends, can cause physical illness as well as depression and anxiety.
Plain and simple: Your happiness and well-being depend on your ability to get along with other people. You will live longer and experience greater life quality.
Is there someone like a family member, friend or colleague with whom you can repair a bridge?
- Learn to emote, rather than suppress anger, and get over anger quickly. In other words don’t spin your wheels, but drive full speed ahead. Laboratory experiments have shown that even subtle forms of anger weaken problem solving abilities and overall competence. Anger narrows and paralyzes your mental focus, tending to eclipse options. Get past the sticking point and remove that stinger!
- Change the story. It’s human nature to create stories about everything – even in situations where we don’t really know the facts, or details or remember what really happened. We fill in the details blurring the lines between fact and fiction. However, note that subjective stories change according to your changing life situation. The more self-confident you are, the kinder your interpretation. And kindness, generosity of spirit, fortifies your self-worth, enabling you to create more positive stories. You will get into a positive loop.
- Examine your self-talk. Do you lean to the positive or the negative? If you speak to yourself negatively, you will do that to others. Are you angry at yourself for allowing yourself to get so angry or hurt?
- Expand your mind. Can you open up to a differing opinion?
- Know that ranting at someone rarely improves behavior; instead it usually fuels the other person’s anger.
- Empathize to cool down anger. Understand what someone else is feeling while you maintain your own separate emotions. Bringing out the best in others neutralizes tension. When you understand the needs of another, you lose your anger and regain a vital connection.
- Accept the no-apology possibility. Even if others don’t profusely apologize, renounce their transgressions, and vow to make amends, you can still let go by reframing the story. When you reframe the story, make sure to go from victim to victor.
- Instead of dwelling on who is wrong and what was done to you, you can redirect your thoughts to: How can I let this go? I have better things to think about.
So, when you respond to Aunt Helen, come from a point of personal empowerment and ask her if she has any helpful leads. And regarding that pumpkin pie, explain to your mother that as far as pastries go, pumpkin has nutritional value – besides you feel attractive looking substantial and curvy. Rehearse some good answers in advance because you already know the predictable comments and the dialogue which repeat from year to year. Find within a great stress-relieving tool already in your possession: Humor. Good moods are actually contagious.
Spread good cheer and generate good will in keeping with the spirit of the holiday season. When the days are shortest and darkest, shine your inner light.
Debbie Mandel, MA is the author of Addicted to Stress: A Woman's 7 Step Program to Reclaim Joy and Spontaneity in Life, Changing Habits: The Caregivers' Total Workout, Turn On Your Inner Light: Fitness for Body, Mind and Soul, a stress-management specialist. She is the host of the weekly Turn On Your Inner Light Show on WGBB AM1240 in New York and has been featured on radio/ TV and print media. To learn more please visit: www.turnonyourinnerlight.com