Every holiday, I am often asked, "I love my family but only for so long. My relatives inevitably get on my nerves after a while. What can I do?" If you’re familiar with my approach, you likely know my first advice is to ditch the drama and recognize that the stress you feel isn't from your reality but from the story you've made up about reality. Your relatives are your relatives. What gets on your nerves is that they aren’t following your script. What frustrates us is how they deviate from your story of what you believe they should be or what they should do.
Your relatives are not bothersome until you make up the story they're acting in ways that they shouldn't. Is Uncle Lester intentionally leaving shoes on his feet in order to soil your entry rug? Did he do that on purpose? Or, is it simply not something he thinks about without his wife who passed away who usually nagged him about taking his shoes off? Pause for a moment and think about how often our ego sneaks up on us and assigns motive to so many things our relatives do. Are your relatives really out to get you? Are they ganging up on you? Are they intentionally trying to ruin your holiday? Our brain quickly fills space with chatter and thoughts and reasons for why things happen, so I’ll share with you some of my best advice: Stop believing everything you think. In reality, they probably aren't doing any of these things.
Stop Believing Everything You Think
In fact, I believe our reality is never as harsh as we think it is. If you want peace and love and happiness for the holidays, stop judging and start loving. Give everyone in your life a wonderful gift, it's called the benefit of the doubt.
I want you to assume noble intent. I’m reminded of a helpful tip that A Course in Miracles teaches, “There are two types of acts. Acts of love and cries for love and our only appropriate response is a loving one.” Everything someone in your life does is either an act of love or a cry for love. The only appropriate response is love. They either are acting lovingly, which makes it easy for us to respond with love. Or, they're crying for love often with an act that feels less than loveable. Compensate that with love.
Coupled with a bit of mercy or forgiveness, use this season to practice the gift of giving everyone be benefit of the doubt and see how your holidays change. It's absolutely spectacular. This approach helps everybody and it role models for the kids in your life how to be kind and loving and tolerant as a family. In my family, my hope is that everybody feels like they get a little bit of extra room to relax and be who they are for the holidays.
Have a Great Exit Line
Another tip that I often give people is to have great exit lines. We are human and often find ourselves living as our highest and most patient self for so long, but sometimes you feel like you're just going to explode, right? Enter the good exit line. These are lines to memorize for when you need a gentle get away. It's a way to stay out of some heated areas that are hot topics for you or your family members. Here are my favorites:
- I had somebody say to me, "Wow. You really put on weight." My exit-line answer to her was, "Gosh, you know I've noticed that about myself, too. Do you have tips on saying healthy? It seems like you are really maintaining a healthy weight."
- An older family member was sitting next to me, complaining about how we handled Christmas and he said, "Christmas just isn't what it used to be." Instead of feeding into that, I just found a moment of kindness and said, "I bet you've seen a lot of different ways to celebrate holidays in your years. What was your most memorable experience?"
- When family or friends become critical about what we were eating, I just turn it back to them to ask, “What's your favorite holiday meal?” It shifts their focus toward what’s true and meaningful for them.
Exit lines are simply a way to handle the moment you feel critiqued and acknowledge a bit of truth in reality. As I mentioned above, some of these critiques are really just cries for love. As an example, somebody might come to you and say, "Can you believe how your brother parents his kids?” And you can turn around with a, "Gosh, I love that guy. He does have a lot going on. What could we be doing to help right now as Christmas gets a little hectic with kids?"
Give the Benefit of the Doubt
There are so many opportunities for our ego to sneak in and get hooked as it is ready and waiting to have a discussion about “who’s right?” in holiday traditions or hosting. These exit statements are fully for our benefit, to help us ditch the drama and upcycle our energy with a call to greatness. I really believe that peace in your heart will lead to peace in your home. Peace comes when you can edit your stories and give people the benefit of the doubt. The holiday seasons are such a wonderful time to look at life through a whole different lens and to see the best in others. For once, let’s give our ego a holiday where it isn't in charge, it's not wreaking havoc, it's not creating stress, it's not creating stories of judgment against others. Maybe the best holiday would be send your ego on a vacation and you say here to enjoy the time with your family.
Here’s a helpful assignment for self-reflection: Let the holidays show you where you can develop next in the new year. Notice where your ego gets hooked, where you get judgmental, where you get stress. Don’t ignore these stress triggers but instead, investigate these opportunities to notice where you feel pain. Pain is simply a point of awareness of where we need to heal – the next place to grow stronger. The result of this helpful work and attention is to grow beyond it to gain immunity; to be immune from this same type of stress in the next year.
Whatever you celebrate, I hope these tips are helpful to you. Know that holidays can bring some challenges we don't get to work on every day. Keep ditching the drama and enjoy yourself and enjoy all of those folks around you.
Follow Cy Wakeman on Twitter @cywakeman
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