9 Things You Can Do To Protect Your Heart This Christmas
Has your expectation of a joy-filled family holiday gathering been shattered by last year’s experience? Have family events left you disappointed and disheartened? You are definitely not alone. For some, the wonderful sounds and scents of the holidays stir up dread or apprehension of getting together with the family. I want to share these 9 things you can do to protect your heart this Christmas.
There is a major advertising conspiracy that tries to get us to believe in a candy cane perfect Christmas fantasy. Holiday sparkle has decked the halls of retail establishments since before Thanksgiving. T.V. specials and old Christmas classics remind us of the magic of Christmas. Holiday tunes sing jingles of joy from dusk till we lay our heads on our pillow at night.
Everything is feeling like Christmas, right? For some of you, yes! For others, maybe it’s not quite so magical. Perhaps your heart is heavy and anxiety is high in anticipation of family holiday events.
Family dynamics are complicated and they become even more challenging during the holidays. If your memories of Christmas are mixed with family conflict and unrealized expectations, you probably want to believe this year will be different. It can be, but not because your family will change. It’s going to be up to you taking care of YOU.
The biggest gift you can give yourself this Christmas is protecting your heart from disappointment and hurt. You can make a decision to stay out of the emotional traps that have gripped you in the past. And this gift, surprisingly, will likely be a gift to all.
Here are 9 things you can do to protect your heart this Christmas:
1. Protect your heart by letting go of the magical Christmas fantasy.
You probably stopped believing in Santa a long time ago. So now it’s time to stop idealizing the family Christmas experience. James Garner is not going to show up on your doorstep with a puppy. The fact is, when imperfect people come together under one roof, stuff happens. Dysfunction becomes exaggerated with each family member that’s added to the mix of things.
2. Don’t get crazy with gift giving.
A shopping spree may feel soothing or distracting, but overspending for Christmas will likely leave you feeling worse come January. The most perfect gift will not change the overall disposition of negative-spirited relative.
3. Expect more of the same.
Dad drinks, brother shows off, sister gossips and grandpa farts. Anticipate more of the same and you will not be let down. Ponder the positives…there have to be some. People who are miserable to be around are usually miserable people. They’ve likely been injured in ways that even they aren’t aware of. Pour out the compassion, and then some. And remember, they are not YOU! Their behavior is not contagious, unless you allow it to be. Remember it’s imperative to protect your heart during these holiday gatherings.
4. Anticipate and avoid competitive hooks.
Spend time beforehand meditating on the fact that YOU are a unique and amazing individual. Yes you are! Do not fall into the comparison trap. When Mom tells you that your high school flame just married a successful doctor, can you celebrate the success without feeling like you’ve been gyped because your husband’s out of work? Can you enjoy the brilliance of cousin Carla’s two-carat engagement ring and wish her much happiness without jealous snarky remarks?
5. Anticipate – and practice – how you will positively respond to shame statements.
Do you come from a family where ‘shame on you‘ was openly pronounced? Fortunately that talk is becoming less prevalent in today’s culture, thanks to the great work of Brene Brown and others. However, many of us have been damaged by shaming statements that make you feel that you will never measure up. Unless you’ve done some work around shame, it can throw you off kilter if you’re unprepared. Pray or meditate on this prior to your family events. You are not your past and should not be defined by it. Don’t let them trigger you! If you struggle with feelings of shame, maybe resolve to dig in and get shame-free during the New year.
6. Controlling your alcohol intake will help protect your heart.
Using alcohol to make a family event feel better can easily backfire. Though alcohol may temporarily dull the sting of a negative comment, it can just as easily intensify the pain of a hurtful jab. A glass of wine may take the edge off your anxiety, two drinks may remove just a bit too much inhibition, and three may bring out the angry beast. BE CAREFUL!
7. Plan your exit time.
Is your family one who does marathon ‘circle time’? Are they keen on the huge carb-heavy meal followed by a dash for the couch and the clicker? Your family’s idea of a holiday gathering may or may not work for you. Chances are you know their drill. Plan accordingly. Give your holiday hosts your timetable, in advance. And prepare yourself for their resistance and guilt-inducing comments when you stick to your exit plan. Be okay when they remind you that ‘it was such a short visit, dear’.
8. Stay connected as a couple.
Protecting your heart during the holidays means staying connected as a couple. This is huge! You’ve grown up with the quirks of your family. To your partner, your family may seem like aliens. Having your family send your new love running for dear life is not they holiday memory you want to create. You two are in this together. Don’t leave each other alone. Don’t expect it to be easy for your partner. Be grateful if it is. Your partner doesn’t have the same family baggage you have. He or she may not be triggered or annoyed by your family as much as you are. Check on one another. Have an emergency exit code.
9. Be the blessing.
When planning for your family gathering, think of a few positive attributes of each of your family members. Maybe your partner can help you with this. Focus on the positives, rather than the negatives. Decide to be in a good mood and to let family members know how much you appreciate them.
I believe that when you focus on readying yourself, rather than your family members, you too can find the joy in your holiday family gatherings. It may not be easy, but with some preparing you can create a new family tradition where peace prevails.
We wish you and yours much love, joy and peace this Christmas! Let us know if you need help with your New Year’s resolutions.
I’m Michael W. Regier, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist and Certified Emotionally Focused Couples Therapist and EFT Supervisor with offices in San Luis Obispo and Visalia, California. I help couples navigate the special challenges of relationship presented during the holidays, and of course all year. My wife Paula and I co-authored the book Emotional Connection: The Story & Science of Preventing Conflict & Creating Lifetime Love.