Friday, December 11, 2009

Christmas Sanity

(c) 2009 Joan M. Newcomb

A common question people ask me is how to handle someone who's driving you crazy.  There's the woman who's brother-in-law is always over at their place, working on their machines (and messing them up).  He owed them money and her husband, although vexed, never asked to be paid back.

Then there's the elderly man who's adult child and spouse moved in with him and have taken over the house.

Or the employee who's coworker is so toxic, she chased off his predecessor.  She's nasty to everyone but perfect on the details of her job, so the bosses look the other way.

And many who are visiting relatives for the holidays who, much as they love them, cannot stand to be around them for very long.

 The common theme I found when looking at each of these situations was - conflicting assumptions and expectations.

The woman expected her brother-in-law to be responsible and accountable, although he's never shown any evidence of being capable of it!  She's expecting her husband to set boundaries even though he never has in all the years they've been married.

The elderly man's children assume they are being helpful by cooking all the meals (of foods he doesn't eat).  He expects them to clean the bathroom after they use it.  Nobody's telling anybody their preferences or asking for anything different.

The employee expects the coworker to be professional in her communication and opinions. (And expects his workplace *not* to be dysfunctional!)

And we have *loads* of expectations and assumptions about our relatives (and ourselves)!

For one thing, we can't assume we know where the other person is coming from.  People have funny ways of dealing with their feelings during the holiday.  Someone who is grieving inwardly may be angry outwardly.  Someone who is fearful may act controlling.

We can't assume people will act the way we do.  They may not have years of therapy or learned to talk about their feelings.  We can't expect them to know what we're thinking or what we want.

However, just as it's a mistake to assume someone's behavior will miraculously change since the last time we saw them, it's also a mistake to think someone we haven't seen for years will be the same as before.  We go back to the family reunion with a chip on our shoulder and discover that Uncle Pat quit drinking three years before and has become humble and kind.

We also have expectations of ourselves, to remain normal in the face of everyone else's projections and assmuptions!

We can you do to maintain (or regain) sanity in the midst of all this holiday havoc?

Try to have a sense of humor about everything.  When you get into a space of amusement, you have a fighting chance of not being sucked into the drama.  As you gather with family, imagine yourself to be in comedy movie.  When you go to work, reframe it as a sitcom rather than a soap opera.  Recast those key members and different characters in your mind.  This gives you a chance to detach, to step out of the story line.

It's amazing what happens when you have no expectations.  You have more space to be yourself.  Others have more space to be themselves.  They may still be nutcases, but they don't bother you any more.

You intuitively know when to speak up for yourself and when to quietly turn your attention elsewhere.  You let other's comments roll off your back.

It takes practice, of course.  Try this for the next week (but don't expect perfection) and see what happens!

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