Bringing the family together means different things to different people. Even people in the same family will see this event totally differently. For some it is a beautiful occasion that cannot come soon enough each year. While others in the same room are just counting the minutes until they can leave.
The truth is that we can decide for ourselves how to experience this annual event. You actually have much more control over your emotions than you probably realize. It is easy to think that emotions are just something that happen to us, and for many people that is true because they never were taught they have a choice. A good life coach can help you identify emotional triggers. The coach will work with you to develop techniques and directives to not only cope and tolerate with the situation, but to actually experience it totally differently. One way we do that is by working on perspective.
Part of perspective is knowing that we can't change those around us. As much as we can imagine how wonderful life would be if everyone else could be the way I wanted them to be, it is just not going to happen. All we can really work on is ourself.
The other part of perspective is examining how we relate and react to our own environment. How are we taking in the events occurring around us, and what meaning are we applying to those events? People will work hard to preserve their own identity, that means most of what we see can fail to take in the point-of-view of others. It is easy to just assume that we see things as they really are, when in fact we are just seeing things the way "we" see things. That leads me to a great poem about how the same event taking place at the same time can be totally different for each person. As you read this, really try to put yourself into this situation.
The Cookie Thief
by Valerie Cox
A woman was waiting at an airport one night,
With several long hours before her flight.
She hunted for a book in the airport shops.
Bought a bag of cookies and found a place to drop.
She was engrossed in her book but happened to see,
That the man sitting besides her, as bold as could be,
Grabbed a cookie or two from the bag in between,
Which she tried to ignore to avoid a scene.
So she munched the cookies and watched the clock,
As the gutsy cookie thief diminished her stock.
She was getting more irritated as the minutes ticked by,
Thinking, "If I wan't so nice, I would blacken his eye."
With each cookie she took, he took one too,
When only one was left, she wondered what he would do.
With a smile on his face, and a nervous laugh,
He took the last cookie and broke it in half.
He offered her half, as he ate the other,
She snatched it from him and thought... oooh, brother.
This guy has some nerve and he's also rude,
Why he didn't even show any gratitude!
She had never known when she had been so galled,
And sighed with relief when her flight was called.
She gathered her belongings and headed to the gate,
Refusing to look back at the thieving ingrate.
She boarded her plane, and sank in her seat,
Then she sought her book, which was almost complete.
As she reached in her baggage, she gasped with surprise,
There was her bag of cookies, in front of her eyes.
In mine are here, she moaned in despair,
The others were his, and he tried to share.
Too late to apologize, she realized with grief,
That she was the rude one, the ingrate, the thief.
How many times in our lives,
have we absolutely known
that something was a certain way,
only to discover later that
what we believed to be true...was not?
(Source: Chicken Soup for the Soul, (c) 1996 by Jack Canfield and Mark Victor Hansen)
This poem is rich with coaching directives. If we were to discuss your anxiety with family gatherings with me, I would work hard to help you and I understand these first four areas. At which time we could discuss the fifth.
1. Emotional State: The first thing to do in a stressful situation, or right before your know you'll enter a stressful situation, is to check in with your emotional state, or mood. Give it a name and acknowledge it. This is a powerful way to begin the process of controlling, or at least, influencing our emotional state. This is one of the first steps to developing emotional muscle or mastery.
In the poem, she became irritated and annoyed pretty quickly. This took her down a course of thought that dominated her time with the alleged cookie thief. By giving into her mood she prevented herself from developing any alternatives than the "reality" that she was in the presence of a smug cookie thief.
2. Focus: Our focus so often dictates our outcomes. The more we focus on somethings, good or bad, the greater the chance we will get it. Do you focus more on a weight problem or a fitness problem? Which do you often end up with? What are the chances we will enjoy our time with the family if we are focused on how bad it will be? What if you focused on how to connect or engage with one relative at a deeper level?
Her focus was entirely on her and her cookies. This influenced her mood and limited her ability to see any different perspectives.
3. Meaning: When we get stuck, or have trouble moving forward, we are often struggling with the meaning of something in our life. We have assigned a meaning to an activity or event that is causing doubt or fear. In the family gathering we may have developed a negative meaning of this event over the years and that becomes our default. Or, I have seen where people may assign too much special meaning to the gathering and are always disappointed. It is rare that everyone in the room will have the same meaning for the same event.
The lady in the poem assigned a negative meaning to the cookies being taken. What if she would have thought to herself how generous she was being? This may have lighted the situation enough for her to talk to the stranger and then maybe learn the truth. It may have been a little awkward, but that would be better than sitting and stewing the whole time.
3. Relationships: Relating is an act of the heart. It is about knowing who are the key people in your life. What is the connections that you have with them? Often times our extended family may not be the key people in our life. And that is okay. But maybe using this time to begin to understand one or two relatives at a deeper level may develop a connection that was not there before.
In the poem she did not work to relate to the cookie thief. Approaching a difficult situation with an attitude of the heart will often result in developing connections.
5. Strategy: In relationship and Strategic Intervention coaching we will often attempt to solve big problems with small actions. Usually a small - strategic - action will disrupt a pattern or change a perspective or redefine a core value or belief or modify a behavior, or all of these. When you are getting together with your family this holiday season, focus on one small step to make it better for you. Be specific and deliberate and proactive. Approach it with an open mind and heart. You'd be amazed at how it can help.
What small step could the lady in the poem have taken? She had a big problem, being the victim of an ongoing theft. It is not an entirely easy question to answer, is it? It usually takes a bit of getting to know the person, understanding who they are and what drives them. A good coach will rarely have the answer to this right away.
Please let me know if I can help guide you through the holiday season.