The Christmas season can be a stressful time. There – I’ve said it. For those of you who never experience any holiday madness in yourself or others – stop reading right now. These words are meant for the rest of us. Christmas can be a time when we make unrealistic demands on ourselves and the people around us. I think this is because many of us have been sold a Hallmark/TV version of what Christmas is supposed to be like. The subsequent jolt between that fantasy land and our own reality often equals stress, which can in turn lead to behaviours that are not pretty to witness, in ourselves or others. The plain and simple truth is that holidays make people crazy. The word bedlam fits well.
But don’t despair – I want to share a two-step plan that might help to temper some of the insanity. But first we’re going to need an insight and image to guide our way. When confronted with another person in the grips of holiday madness, I suggest we remind ourselves that the person is acting from a place of extreme discomfort – the mismatch between expectations and reality is brutal. Picture a small child sprawled on the pavement after a hard fall – lip split from the impact, knees and elbows scraped and bleeding – little bits of gravel imbedded in wounds. You get the picture.
OK – so with our insight and image firmly in place – two simple steps – and by simple, I mean simple to write, maybe even simple to remember, but extremely difficult to do. Why, you ask? When confronted with a person who is acting sort of crazy, you have to switch gears pretty quickly to get to a spot of feeling sorry for all that dirt in their scraped up knees. Your first reaction is going to be to head straight to your own holiday madness spot. If we aren’t careful we will find ourselves immersed in a screaming match within seconds. Holiday madness is a very infectious type of illness. So, suppress your own insanity, picture that crying little child and give this a try.
- Look right at the person and say – I see you are ________________ (fill in appropriate emotion – angry, upset, frustrated, sad, feeling like there is not enough liquor in the world let alone this house to make up for such a screwed up family). Pause to let this statement sink in. (Prepare yourself for the other person to say – you’re damn right I’m _______. Nod and repeat – I see that.)
- Follow up by saying – I care about you (or love you or like you or appreciate you – whatever fits with this person and situation.) Hopefully this statement can be accompanied by a hug or pat on the back or whatever is appropriate.
If you are feeling particularly saintly, these two steps can be followed by a sincere invitation to dialogue – i.e. would you like to talk? (I warn you though – if you issue this invitation be willing to put up with the possibility of some venting of steam before the person is actually ready to talk). And if you are right up near the top of the hierarchy of sainthood, you could add – what can I do to help?
But all kidding aside, the first two steps, carried out with sincerity, might just diffuse many explosive situations before the TNT really ignites. What have you got to lose? Think of it as a Christmas experiment – try it a few times and see what happens. I’d love to hear how it goes for you.
(Warning – this strategy is not meant to be advice – heaven forbid, you all know how I feel about advice. Nor is it meant to provide a way of putting up with crap no one should put up with – it’s just a tool to tuck away in your holiday survival tool belt.)