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Navigating the Holidays

Living with Spiritual Elegance

by Caroline Phipps

The holidays are upon us and for many of us that means getting together with family. And being submerged in family customs and traditions takes us on a psychological journey to the past. This can feel as comforting as sitting in front of a blazing log fire on a frosty night or as uncomfortable as walking through the snow in bedroom slippers. For some of us the emotional price of getting together with family can be extremely high. We can get stuck in emotional patterns, stories and rituals that can anchor us in the past, prevent us from enjoying the present and stop us moving forward with our lives.

Recently one of my friends was telling me how much she dreaded the thought of spending Thanksgiving with her mother. “I know where all the emotional tripwires are,” she said, “but I always manage to get blown up! It’s so disappointing. She makes me feel like I’m a child again. After two days I can’t wait to leave.”

Looking at this scenario from the outside, it seems that mother and daughter are rooted in a past with a well-worn script, written years earlier, that both are invested in. Their holiday gatherings are framed in pain and frustration even before the first word is uttered.

If your holiday experience tends to bear more resemblance to dysfunction junction than a page out of the Martha Stewart handbook, here are three strategies you can utilize from your living with Inner Elegance tool kit that can help to change things for the better.

Firstly, the most important thing we can change is our own perception. It helps to get realistic about what to expect from others. This limits expectations and guards against the endless disappointments when things don’t change. It doesn’t mean giving up on others, it means putting our own emotional wellbeing first.

Secondly, we tend to become the character in the emotional story we tell ourselves. We become the person who can never get anything right, the person to whom terrible things always happen, the person who always saves others and so on. And we tend to forget that these are just that, stories, or put another way, fictitious fabrications. We need to think about telling our stories from a different angle, paying particular attention to the role we play. Do we feel righteous or wronged? Are we victims or saviors? Do we feel guilty or do we make others feel guilty? By putting some space in between us and the narrative in this way, it becomes easier to remember that the other person has as valid a point of view as we do, and they too have embedded reasons for holding onto a fiction that promotes their continual suffering.

Thirdly, give up the need to be right. It is our self-righteous ego mind that drives us to lock horns with others, often over minor things, that continues to cause nothing but further pain and resentment. If we have the choice between kind and being right, choose kind. What does it really matter in the end if your warnings are ignored and the turkey is over cooked? Enjoy the freedom and relief that comes from relinquishing control.

Change is hard work and it takes strength and courage to make it happen. But you may discover that by altering your approach to the holidays this year you see changes, for the better, in how others interact with you. It could make all the difference between feeling as if you are on a sortie into enemy territory or having an elegant and peaceful holiday season.