What to do with my Christmas ambivalence

Yes, I would love to appear all sweetness and light but I am Christmas-ambivalent. I like shiny sparkly things, but when I see tinsel and lights I wonder what this display is costing the environment? Gifts can be great when given from the heart: they can be an expression of love of recognition of who you are and an acknowledgement of what is alive in you. But so often it seems to be a ‘check off the list’ activity. And something that is demanded of me. Worst of all I love my family but am not looking forward to seeing them all at once… shouting over the top of each other, asking mean questions like “so where are you travelling to this year?” when they know I can’t afford to travel. And they compete over the behaviour and characteristics of their children. And talk about politics!

If only I could separate the fun – the jokes, the laughter, the occasional quiet moment with just one or two of them at a time (there will be about 40 of us!) Then I could get really excited about Christmas!

What can I do? I can stay stuck with it all and keep moaning here and to my friends and colleagues and they will moan back about their dreadful relatives, there is a certain pleasure in that shared reality for sure. I could avoid the whole thing, I have done that before, but it was a bit lonely and boring. Or I could explore the various conversations and look for some way to meet my needs and theirs as well… I could shift the paradigm from competition to mutuality. I can at least try to use nonviolent communication (NVC).

When someone says: So, where you travelling to this year? I can give myself empathy. I feel angry, vulnerable, unsafe. [This is a competition I cannot win] I need safety. He perhaps is feeling vulnerable too. He may looking for acknowledgement of his successes, including that he travels regularly. Or just simple self-expression, a segue into a discussion on his travel plans. Maybe he is even trying to create connection?  I could respond with …. with… I don’t have any travel plans at this moment. What about you? In the moment it may be clear that he wants to actually hear about my life so I could offer something about study or home renovations.

When someone says: Did you see X (child of Y) just now take that stick and try and hit the dog with it. Y’s children are SO wild! Empathy for me: I feel irritated, frustrated, defensive [they talk about my kids behind my back, no doubt!] I need harmony, acceptance, love. She might also be feeling defensive, vulnerable, concerned (that her kids will be judged as ‘worse.’) It is also possible that she is concerned about the dog? She might also need inclusion, acceptance and love. And safety for that dog. I could respond with are you concerned about the dog? and just respond to what comes next… If it is a being competitive through our kids issue, I could just address it straight out… It seems to me that we may sometimes compete through our children and maybe we could just talk directly to the parent, in private if we have a concern. It’s funny, it has taken me 24 hours to work this out but I can’t think of one person involved in this who would respond negatively to that comment. Even if they disagree. I even think some of them would feel relieved.

Dammit, I also have to think about when am tempted to talk about someone else’s children. [It’s true, I am not all sweetness and light!] So, in the scenario above I can simply act to ensure the safety of the dog (or china, or someone’s eye, whatever). I can talk to the child quietly or with the very young kids, just remove them, distract them and /or talk to the parent directly, in private and not involve anyone else. If the compulsion is very strong I can distract myself in the moment [oh what pretty sparkly things there are on the table, how lovely!] and speak to my empathy buddy later.

What about politics? Someone is sure to raise that one… again. Someone might say Ahh you greenies. The trouble with you mob is that you don’t have any policies!” Empathy for me: I am feeling frustrated, a little bored and defensive [oh my god, that is so untrue]. I need clarity (I am right now genuinely unsure of what they wish to achieve from such a statement!) and self-expression. Empathy for them: they might be feeling curious (what do the greens have to offer?) defensive (their income is supplemented by investment in industries the greens do not agree with) fun (they are teasing me for a joke). I have heard this so many times but have no idea why they say it. I could ask them something I’m interested to know why you say that. Are you needling me to get a funny reaction or are you interested in something about the Greens?

I am getting the hang of this now. The trick will be using it when I am in the thick of it… feeling my feelings and needing my needs. I do have a secret weapon though. My daughters will be there and I have asked them to give me a nudge (or a kick under the table) when they see me get hot under the collar about something. They might even say, Remember nvc!

I am starting to look forward to Christmas!

Published by Rowena McGregor

I am an educator, librarian, & researcher interested in how a transpersonal approach can transform communication and create connections even when we are in conflict. I also love snails -- little metaphors I use to remind myself to take some time to dwell on an idea, to revisit it, to circle around it, for as long as I need before I 'get' it.

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