Positive connections make holiday gatherings less stressful
Posted Nov 08 2010 12:00am
Holidays and getting together go hand in hand, yet obligation and guilt can often get in the way of having a truly wonderful holiday season. Each year clients talk with me about their wishes, fears, hopes and dread of the holiday season. These are themes that I have struggled with, too. It seems to me that there are three central relationship issues, connection, disconnection, and reconnection, that rear up and are highlighted,during the holidays. This is the first in a three-part series on connection, disconnection, and reconnection that I hope will help you better navigate the tricky terrain of the holiday relationship forest.
Humans are hard wired to connect, to be social, to gab and gather. We love to create communities, join groups, and hang out with friends. When connection is lacking we suffer with sadness, loneliness, and sometimes physical illnesses. In short, we need each other. We depend on each other for support and joy and love.
We learn how to connect as kids in families, from parents, siblings and extended family. In good-enough families, kids develop good self-esteem and communication skills. At the very least they learn that their voice matters and this helps tremendously with developing and maintaining good connections with others, even under times of stress.
In more troubled families where alcoholism, divorce, unexpected loss, abuse, or other ills are present, positive connection can get lost in a swamp of confusing, hurtful and sometimes destructive interactions. When this kind of family experience forms the backdrop of a person's life, connections often feel unsafe, unstable, or unreliable.
One cool thing about the holidays is that it gives us plenty of opportunity to connect with friends and family. One uncool thing about the holidays is that it gives us plenty of opportunity to connect with friends and family.
The idealized version of the holidays is of happy loving people joyously sharing food, gifts, and time together. There are lucky folks who are blessed enough to have this experience on some level. More often than not, there are murky and mucky tensions running through some relationships that make the holidays as appealing as castor oil.
Guilt and obligation are often in charge of how family holiday gatherings are arranged, which friends to see and what parties to attend. It is possible to create holiday gatherings with people who matter most to you.
As with most things that matter, the work of maintaining positive connections starts long before the holiday season.
All relationships take work: marriages, friendships, work relationships, relationships with neighbors, kids, parents. This 'work' can be boiled down to a few essential ingredients: kindness, empathy, good communication, respecting personal boundaries, and showing an active interest in the other person's life. Practicing these few ways of being in a relationship will add up and provide insulation from other stresses and strains of the holiday season.
In my next post, I will talk about how to plan constructive disconnection from people who are too toxic to be around, especially during the holiday season.