In theory, holidays are a time when we are exempt from the daily grind.
A time to replace the habitual stresses of living and relax with our family and friends.
In reality, our “holiday spirit” experience is often disturbed by a different stress, the one that can come from being in extended proximity with family. Many of us expect or believe that our “best self” needs to be on display, yet this is challenging because our “best self” co-habitates in our mind with our “normal self.”
There is often a struggle as to which “self” gets to make an appearance. After all, it takes courage to see the true Current Reality as well as the Courage to Learn and Grow and the Courage to Act on insights to do our best.
And the expectation that our best self be in charge is all too often sabotaged by some unconscious “spells.” As explained in our book Dynamic Focus: Creating Significance and Breaking the Spells of Limitation, there is a “spell” when any unconscious mental habit of thinking and perceiving takes control of our mind and subverts our best intentions through subtle thoughts, beliefs and assumptions.
When this happens we feel we have either lost control, or we end up acting and relating with those around us in a way contrary to the intention of our “best self.”
One particularly powerful spell that we see is that of “Confirmation Bias.”
This is when we see what we expect to see by organizing information to fit a pre-conceived assumption. This includes cherry picking the information that fits our assumptions and expectations, while excluding that which does not. Challenges show up in numerous ways.
One of these is when families get together and there is unresolved tension between any of the members. Everyone tries to make nice and to bring his or her best self forward, but when one thing is said or done that confirms the source of tension, holiday togetherness can become hell on earth.
It does not always require someone else to trigger the “anti-holiday spirit” spell.
We can do this without any help at all.
For example, the holidays place an emphasis on being with loved ones. What happens for the single person who does not have an active love relationship in the works? For them, the numerous songs, movies and events that portray happy coupling can be a reminder that they are lonely, and remind them of their unfulfilled desire for an active love interest.
It can lead to self-defeating thoughts such as “I am not worthy of being loved”, and then trigger a whole host of sadness-evoking thoughts that spiral downward to feelings of depression.
It can also happen to someone who is with loved ones and is feeling resentment or a sense of disconnection. In this case, spells of “Something is wrong with me” or “Nobody sees the real me” or “I can’t win” come into play.
The simple-minded idea that we can manage these reactions reasonably is a myth.
The spells exist in the unconscious mind, below the realm of active, conscious perceptions. At best, we can watch them take over as they erupt, at which point it is often too late to stop the feelings and less-than-loving behaviors from taking charge.
So, for the holidays, in addition to The 7-step Survival Guide, here are two possible strategies for moving beyond holiday stress:
1. Have the courage to address unresolved tensions that you have with the people you will be celebrating with before the holiday event.
This takes 3 acts of courage: The Courage to See Current Reality instead of what you hope it to be. Then, The Courage to Confront, to tell your truth with compassion. And finally, the Courage to be Confronted, to really hear the other person’s perspectives, experience and “reality.”
It takes real courage to put your own unresolved issues on the table and to work though them. Thankfully, Courage does not take a holiday.
If this feels too risky or you are unsure of the capacity for a healing conversation then you can work with a confidant, a friend or even a counselor to help you see the problematic pattern of thinking and to understand your triggers. You can then anticipate the potential issues and have a self-management as well as a resolution strategy ready.
Not doing this, in the face of a history of being surprised by your less-than-best self showing up regularly in relation to one or more family members, is akin to walking blindfolded though a minefield, expecting to find joy and happiness at the end of your journey. Good luck with that!
2. Remind yourself of who you really are and what you stand for, of your personal purpose and your “power within.”
And then set a conscious intention that your “best self” will show up every day. Find a way to express the best, most enduring intention you have for your life and let that be your gift of the holidays to all those you love. At the end of the holiday season, you will find that you can feel great about yourself and will have inspired others to step up to their best self.
During the coming holidays, take a break from being “normal” and confirm the best that you are!
Wayne Scott Gerber, MSPH, and Robert “Dusty” Staub are co-authors of Dynamic Focus: Creating Significance and Breaking the Spells of Limitation