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The Good Life: A holiday recipe for peace
November 27, 2013 Lisa Betz   

Read more by Lisa Betz
For some, the holidays are full of warmth, joy, laughter and reunion with loved ones they don’t often get to visit with. For others, the holidays can mean arguing and hurt feelings with people they have complicated feelings toward.

Family discord can be intense during the holidays for several reasons. Financial troubles come to a head during the holidays and added pressures can create irritability. It can also be stressful to try to create that impossible Norman Rockwell ideal we think of as a perfect holiday. All of this paired with a heavy dose of family can bring up unresolved issues and a maelstrom of old emotions.

Our families know us better than anyone, at least they think they do. The gift is that family members are also in the best position to push every hot button we possess, potentially making them our greatest teachers. The reverse is also true, we have the capacity to teach our family members as well.

In our culture we are subtly taught to respond to force with force. When we argue with someone, we want to be right. Our culture celebrates the warrior energy, which permeates our handling of discord within interpersonal relationships.

Many are taught by example to meet or match aggressive energy with their own aggressive response, to stand ground, to protect themselves, to meet violence with violence. Violence and subtle aggression is a lot like a tennis match. We receive aggressive energy or behavior, then volley it back, often with greater aggression. Even the angry demand for an apology is an act of aggression.

The tennis match continues until an ending is forced. Someone might intervene, one of the parties may come to their senses or someone could get hurt and be unable to continue the fight. These experiences end with hurt feelings more often than physical hurt but it depends on how far the escalation is allowed to continue.

Have you ever walked away from the holidays harboring angry feelings, resentment or made a vow to stop participating in family gatherings after what you experienced over the holiday?

Why not try a different response this year? Instead of getting angry and resentful, why not set an intention before you meet up with the family that you will stand like a tree in a storm. Trees sway and passively adjust to the force of the wind but rarely lose their rooting. Root yourself like the tree. Visualize tendrils of roots shooting out of your feet and anchoring to the earth’s core. Do this before you meet with company and set the intention to stay grounded and peaceful no matter what gale force hits you that day.

When a challenging moment comes, remember your grounding and your intention. You are the tree, solid, rooted and you define who you are, not the opinions of others. If you are attacked, as sometimes happens over the holidays, try opening your heart instead of putting on the boxing gloves. Try seeing that person in front of you as a fellow human, wounded, hurting and lashing out. Their lashing out has nothing to do with you and everything to do with how they feel inside about themselves.

It’s not so hard to do once you decide to change your response. What can be a challenge is to put the ego on vacation and respond with the heart instead. When Aunt Nancy makes another mean joke at your expense, try a new way of responding. Stay calm, open your heart, look her in the eye with gentleness and sincerely ask, “What hurts you so badly that you feel you need to hurt me?”

Wait for the response. Keep your eyes gentle and your heart open. Feel the person in front of you as a hurt person, crying inside, because that is the real truth. You must be sincere and have no other agenda but love. Ask them, “Is there something I can do to help? I’m concerned about you.”

At the very least, Aunt Nancy won’t be expecting that from you. It’s interesting how people respond to the question above. They are expecting an aggressive energy but they get love instead. It’s hard to sustain a tennis match when the other person refuses to play.

You might be saying, that would never work with my family. You might even think I’m crazy for suggesting this. It can be a little scary to try something completely different that requires you to be vulnerable. First, you have to be willing to stop being angry and “right.” You have to recognize that what is being said to you is not personal and never was. Even though it feels immensely personal, it is always, always about their own pain. Try to think of them as being lonely in their pain and wanting you to sit with them in it to keep them company, like someone in the hospital. Raise them up in your love instead.

What do you have to lose? What you absolutely must lose is the ego that wants to be right and wants to fight for the privilege. Responding with the ego is always a losing prospect. The status quo response will have you going home that day with the ego patting itself on the back, (I sure told her!) but will you feel better? Perhaps temporarily. And then there’s Christmas to contend with and years of future holidays to come with nothing settled, no improvement. But your old friend the ego will be pleased with all of those years of fighting ahead.. “I showed them” is the ego’s favorite phrase.

It is the heart and the heart only that heals family drama. Sometimes, of course, one must leave. In some cases, there is real danger and abuse and one must walk away. But for most families, setting aside the ego and opening the heart to your tormentor can do miraculous things, if you’re brave enough to try.
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