It’s at this time of year when the warm weather breaks us out of our hibernation, that we find ourselves spending more time with family and friends for celebrations of various kinds. As we touched on earlier in the series, these are also the times when we may feel obliged to spend time with some of our… ahem… not-so-favourite people; posing some challenging moments.
This year, could be different.
What makes gatherings (with family and others) difficult?
* Differences As we grow up, we shape ourselves into individuals: finding our own values and interests where we then choose to spend our time with people likeminded people. During the festive time we may be forced to spend time with family (or others) who have intensely different values to yours. This can be excruciatingly painful, making it difficult to hold your poise, or your tongue!
* Long term entrenched and unresolved issues can rear their heads; or be the looming elephant-in-the-room.
* Blaming another person or expecting them to change:
Holding on to our expectation that “they will change” or “that it will be different this time”, can often keep us feeling angry or miserable and continually let down.
* Unhealthy communication styles: Ever noticed feeling the need to tell that person what we think (once and for all). And then find yourself in an argument, or back to feeling ‘how you always do’? Blamed, ashamed or belittled.
What to do?
* Drop expectations: Be realistic and don’t expect miracles – if there’s been a life-long pattern of quarrels and tension among the family, be mindful that they will not have not magically disappeared. And, let’s face it, in the 3 hour visit you have with your family, those issues ain’t gonna get resolved!
* Deeply accept the imperfection of things, and that some matters are beyond our control.
* Think “it’s not about me”
* Managing your emotions: Revisit our post on Week 2 (date) and triumph over your challenging emotions that may arise in response to circumstances.
* Understanding conflict: Conflict is simply a matter of people having different and opposing values. As a general rule of thumb, there really is no right or wrong. Although it can be hard to swallow that someone may have such contrasting values to you that seem offensive. However, in these situations, it can be best to agree to disagree and avoid trying to change another person’s values. Respect and value difference and diversity.
* Getting our communication skills right: Communicate your needs by using the DEAR method to: D – Describe what your concern is E – Express how you feel about it A – Assert what you would like, or your opinion R – Reinforce the positives or negative aspects For example: “Mum, I know we’ve had our differences in the past (D); I’m worried that it might get in the way of our lunch together (E); could we perhaps agree to not talk about it (A); so we can have an enjoyable time together (R)”
* Think about your self-care What would be beneficial to you to maintain your health and wellbeing eg, would it be helpful for your self-care to stay out until 5am in the morning? Or stay in the company of an emotionally abusive family member for 7 hours? Or sit next to your cousin who insists on talking about his marriage breakdown.
* Strategise: Devise a plan in advance. Think through the event, who will be there, where it is etc. You may then want to propose a seating arrangement; set a time limit for your visit; maintain light talk with ‘the difficult ones’. Consider (in advance) how you might manage those challenging conversations and moments when they arise.
This year, the festive season could be one that’s more fulfilling. If you would like any further support, call the centre and book in to see one of our counsellors.
Written by me, permission given from Leichhardt Women's Community Health Centre to share