Six tips for less conflict this Christmas
How to have a Christmas with more connection than crisis by trying out a few, new ways to relating to your relations and looking after yourself.
Christmas can be a tricky time for many of us. We end up spending an intense period of time with people we don’t see that much, with who we share a lot of history and baggage.
And for some us there’s also partners and children to deal with. We see them day-to-day as we all dash about in various directions but the shift from 100mph — 0mph as school finishes and work closes down means a big transition for everyone into being together.
If any of this sounds familiar here are a few tips that might help smooth things out at a bumpy time of year.
1. Make space for yourself
It’s not healthy for human beings to be in company all of the time but if we’re not careful we can find ourselves constantly surrounded by other people over Christmas. Make a conscious effort to carve out space for yourself to the degree you need it. Pay attention to what you need — practice listening inside as well as out — and do what you have to. Make it clear and explicit (“I need some quiet time, I’m off to my room for a bit”) or more covert (“I’ll just take the dog for a walk”). If you’re reaction to this is: well, that’s all very well but I can’t because… then there’s usually a conversation to be had with yourself about why that is.
2. Don’t mix booze and politics (or religion or…)
There’s often lots of booze sloshing about over the break and naturally, when the booze comes out the gloves can come off. People become more willing to open up and less careful about the impact of what they say. Know your triggers and noticing when there’s a risk on the horizon of them being pulled. For instance, if uncle Roger starts talking about politics and you already know that he’s singing from a very different hymn sheet to you then don’t listen to the voices that tell you to be ready to put him straight. You know that’s not what happens and you know neither of you are in the space for an enlightened, constructive debate that examines the subtleties and complexities of the issue. Let him waffle on, not because it’s right but because the alternative probably doesn’t serve any purpose.
3. Remember you love them
When we’re angry or frustrated, that’s all we know. We can be with someone who is the parent to our children, that’s supported us through thick and thin, but when we’re pushed over our threshold and holding them responsible then all of that goes out of the window. One thing that hacks straight through the judgement, blame and urge to punish each other is the simple reminder that ‘I love you’. This can be to yourself to calm the rage, or to the other to calm theirs. The inability to think about the longer term is a flaw in our makeup but one that’s triggered by the fight-or-flight instinct. “I love you” helps to engage the other part of our brain that deals with rationality, compassion and empathy.
4. Don’t take things personally
A bit like Uncle Roger and his difficult political views, it helps to remember that if this triggers us it’s because we’ve taken things personally. His views might be offensive to us, they might be flying in the face of progress and equality but they’re also an inconsequential expression of their personal history, fears and insecurities. They are not a threat. Breathe, listen to the voice of your own insecurity or frustration and offer that part of you some reassurance. Only engage if you genuinely think there’s some benefit to you, him and those around you by getting stuck in — not simply because you can’t help reacting and tearing strips off him.
5. Remember they’re human
As a normal human being you’ll find yourself unconsciously putting whoever you’re in conflict with in a role or position in relation to you — especially if they’re a family member. They’re persecuting you or they’re playing the victim, for example. If you can, remember that they’re a unique, flawed human being, doing their best in that moment with the tools available to them. They’re not (usually) out to get at you and if even when they are it’s because they’re suffering themselves and/or falling short when it comes to their emotional competence.
6. Practice good boundaries
With any and all of the above boundaries are a helpful thing to practice. Whether it’s someone cajoling you to join the party rather than have some personal space or Uncle Roger (again) seemingly trying to goad you into a conversation about Trump or Brexit, know that it’s your choice about what you do and whether it lines up with what you need. Practice saying no (in whatever way feels healthy and appropriate to you) and seeing what that’s like.
This is not intended to be an exhaustive list or easy stuff to put into practice. It’s critical not to imagine you can make conflict go away, or to hold yourself to some impossibly high standard. The intention simply to make life easier and turn conflict into an opportunity for learning, not something that ruins lunch — and remember you’re always doing your best.
If you’d like to skill up on working with conflict, and understand your relationship with the messy stuff a bit better, then join me for How to fight well — a six week online course, with dates starting in January and March.