During the holidays, one of the toughest challenges can be being around people who make you crazy. Whether they’re people related to you - or people whose families you’ve married into - or strangers, tension can run high at this time of year. Here are three ways you can shift your mindset to help yourself be more at ease around those difficult people.
#1: Don’t Take It Personally
One of the ways we make bad situations worse, is by taking the actions of other people personally. When that person cuts you off on the freeway, or doesn’t hold the door for you as you’re trying to get in out of the rain, or uses a tone of voice that riles you up - it’s totally natural to get mad.
That anger is coming from the assumption that, somehow, they did what they did to hurt you, or because they don’t care about you. But in reality, that’s incredibly unlikely. The truth is that each of us is just doing what we think will make us happy, pretty much every minute of every day.
That means those people who are really making you mad didn’t wake up this morning wondering how they could make your life more miserable. They woke up this morning with the intention - deliberate, or totally unconscious - of making their lives happier, without any reference to you.
Now, that may be cold comfort - we like to think that we’re the center of our own universe, and that we matter more than that to the people in our lives! - but it’s also a huge relief. If all those people aren’t out to hurt you, personally, then you don’t need to take anything they do or say personally.
You can (and should!) speak up if what someone is doing is unacceptable to you. This isn’t about becoming a doormat. When you take this perspective, the big shift is that these tough interactions are no longer about being the victim of all those mean people out there. You can let those irksome incidents and words just roll over you, instead of getting caught up in the drama.
#2: Ask Honest Questions
When someone’s position or attitude is different from yours, your instinct is likely to jump in with counter-arguments, sarcasm, or accusations. This is totally natural - and, usually, just results in hurt feelings or pointless arguments where no one is really listening to anyone else.
Here’s an alternative: listen, and ask honest questions. Get curious.
Engage the person in a real discussion about the topic, letting go of your certainty that you’re right and they’re wrong.
At the heart of any human interaction is the deep desire to be heard. Often, when someone realizes that you’re actually listening to them, it shifts the whole energy of the conversation.
Be careful not to stray into leading questions that actually are just about reinforcing your own opinion; really ask genuine questions aimed at understanding their position better. It may not result in their changing that opinion, but it will be a much more human conversation than the argument you’d otherwise jump into.
#3: Send Them Love
When you’ve got a really entrenched pattern of behavior with someone in your life, it can be hard not to get entangled with them whenever you’re together. Whether it’s that they seem to suck you into their drama, or they’re full of advice or criticism about how you’re living your life, or they’re constantly leaning on you to solve their problems, those patterns can be exhausting.
It’s easy to get to a place where you just don’t want to be around them at all, and sometimes that’s absolutely the best thing you can do for both of you.
But when you must be in the same room, one way to help yourself be less reactive is to consciously choose to send them love. You can do this with a simple phrase you repeat to yourself, such as, “No matter what you say, I love you” or “Sending love right back at you!” or just “I love you.”
Come up with one that resonates for you and repeat it in your mind as you go into those tough moments. See if it shifts your focus from being hurt or anxious or angry, to being more relaxed. Sometimes just engaging your heart helps those intense interactions be less fraught.
Think about the people you’ll be spending time with over the next few weeks. Who is it that really triggers you, and what is it that you’re afraid will happen? Which of the tactics above might help you handle those situations with more presence and love, and less irritability? What are you curious to experiment with this holiday season?
I’d love to hear what you’re inspired to try out. Tell me in the comments below!