Imagine being told that one day next month you’ll get together with the people who know you best, and that you must be happy and loving towards them all. What’s more, your feelings can’t be contrived; you must be sincere and honest.
What? You can manage what you say and even—to a certain extent—what you think, but you can’t decide how you’re going to feel on a given day. How are you expected to make that happen?
The first thing you can do is not set yourself up with unrealistic expectations. If you hear yourself saying, “Aunt Betty better behave herself this year,” you’re putting your hopes in something beyond your control. Better let that one go.
Then there’s the selfless and impossible promise, “No matter how Brother Jack criticizes me, I won’t feel hurt.” Good luck with that.
Or, “If I just shut up there’ll be no fighting and no one will get hurt.” Sure, except that your bottled-up frustration will erupt one way or another.
Another thing you can do is prepare to have your buttons pushed. You know you don’t have to react to Jack’s jibes, but he has a knack of delivering them just when your guard’s down. You can’t reinvent yourself at a moment’s notice. You have to practice the art of not reacting so it’ll be ready for you when you need it.
There’s no need to compromise yourself. Not reacting doesn’t mean becoming a doormat. It means taking a deep breath, letting go of your habitual reactions and instead coming up with an intelligent response. If that response is novel or surprising, even better. When it comes to family, everyone expects you to stick to your role so that they can stick to theirs. Stir it up a little. If you act differently, people will react differently too.
How do you do that? Practice. All the willpower in the world won’t enable you to change who you are when it’s inconvenient to be you, but if you think about it in advance, you can become more than you think. More open, more calm, more relaxed. There are more possible dimensions of you than you can ever imagine. Here’s a great way to open up new ones: each bedtime recall one thing you’re grateful for. See how it makes you feel. Do this every day and watch the momentum build week by week.
Rather than being stuck in old patterns, you’ll have more options. You’ll be prepared for the holidays in the best ways possible, and you won’t have to put on the cheer. It’ll be real.