Keeping the Peace This Holiday Season

Keeping the Peace This Holiday Season - Cluff Counseling - Lewisville Therapist“Nobody’s walking out on this fun, old-fashioned family Christmas. No. No. We’re all in this together.” -Clark Griswold, Christmas Vacation

The holiday season is truly magical. The snow, the lights, the presents, the carolers, the sightings of Santa Claus himself, and the amount of stress that accompanies such a wonderful time of year!  With the holidays come family meals and gatherings, and–for some–this is not all fun and games. Many families have one (or more) individual(s) who consistently manages to say something rude, spark controversy, offend others, arrive late, act inappropriately, etc. While most people are looking forward to decorating gingerbread houses, others are dreading getting around the difficult family member. If you can relate to this struggle with family, read on.

Regardless of how much you love your family, you are bound to run into an uncomfortable, annoying, or tense situation with a family member at some point during the holidays when so many personalities are congregated around the table. Here are four suggestions to keep the peace this holiday season:

Have realistic expectations. While it is good to hope for the best in people, you need to be realistic. If certain individuals have behaved a certain way for years, do not expect them to be any different this Christmas Eve dinner. When your Aunt Bethany makes her usual comment about your outfit or beard, be prepared to brush it off…because you expected it. Having realistic expectations of others will enable you to maintain your cool when they say something unnecessary or offensive. Because you expected it, you can choose to not let it ruin your evening.

Set boundaries.  This one has several parts:

  1. Conversations: Plan to keep conversation conflict-free by avoiding potentially sensitive topics. Politics and religion are go-to topics for immediate controversy, but each family has specific triggers that can (and should) be avoided at happy holiday gatherings. Get everyone to agree that there are topics that simply will not be discussed because they only bring out the worst in everyone. Setting boundaries like this will hopefully keep the conversation from veering into a minefield of divisive issues. I also highly recommend having a pre-rehearsed line or two that you are confident saying if someone is going against set boundaries. Something like, “This is something I would prefer not to discuss right now, it is too heavy and we should be enjoying the party!” or, “I totally understand you feel that way; even though I have a different opinion, I still respect yours.”
  2. Timing: Be firm with what time you are starting and start at that time. Let everyone know if they are late, dinner and/or the activity will still start on time. There are some people who may consistently late in order to make dramatic entrances, be the focus of attention, and to demonstrate dominance or control. Do not give them that opportunity!
  3. Activities: If a certain game or activity sparks contention, rule it out. I have friends who have decided they simply cannot play basketball on opposing teams because it inevitably gets too competitive and contention ensues. Or maybe for your family it is UNO. Just be sure to avoid activities that do not unite or uplift your family. Also, be sure to avoid excessive alcohol consumption during the festivities; it does not bring out the best in anyone!

Use humor. Everyone has a button that can be pushed to the point of irritation. Whether it is political views, a rough patch at work, a nonexistent dating life, or a slew of other possibilities, no one knows said buttons better than family members. The best way to deflect intentional jabs is with a witty comment. If you take everything seriously or personally, you likely will not even be able to make it through the appetizers and drinks before the holiday dinner is ruined!

Control yourself. At the end of the day, you cannot control your sister, your mother, or your Cousin Eddie. The only thing you can control is yourself. Accept that. You are in control of your reaction, your mood, and your responses. If you have tried all of the above suggestion AND people show up late, engage in controversial topics, or be outright rude, remember that you are in control of YOU. Monitor yourself; if you find you are getting worked up or irritated, physically remove yourself from a conversation, room, or group of people. Take deep breaths. Get active and play a game; it is difficult to be drawn into an argument when engrossed in an activity that requires concentration, physical activity or laughter. Be grateful; think about what you are grateful for to minimize frustrations. Practice tolerance; remember that even you have offended someone in the past. Lastly, forgive your family for not being perfect and for detracting from the festivities and move on.

The holidays come but once a year. Soak these last weeks of 2018 in and do not let any social toxicity get in the way of the holiday cheer. I can assure you that, as you go into your family gatherings having prepared yourself with realistic expectations and set boundaries, you will be able to to control yourself by using humor and monitoring yourself. These are simple, yet powerful suggestions that will equip you with the tools you need to enjoy any family gathering this holiday season. Should you have questions or find you need additional guidance or assistance, please do not hesitate to contact me or schedule a session.

Wishing you and yours the happiest of holidays!

Melissa Cluff is a licensed marriage and family therapist based in Lewisville, Texas, personally seeing clients in the North Dallas area.

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Gifts of Gratitude

Gratitude - Cluff Counseling - Dallas TherapistIt’s easy to feel grateful when all is going well, but when your computer crashes, your car needs new brakes, or your to-do list is piled sky high, it is hard to notice what is going well. Ironically, these difficult times are exactly when we can practice gratitude and see the greatest results. Of all the personal attributes one can develop, gratitude is most strongly associated with mental health.

Simply put, gratitude is the emotion that relates to our ability to feel and express thankfulness and appreciation. November, and more particularly Thanksgiving, is when we tend to focus on gratitude, but the positive effects that accompany being grateful can inspire us to practice gratitude all twelve months of the year. Traditionally, the study of this emotion has been relegated to the fields of theology and philosophy, but in 2007, Robert Emmons, professor of psychology at the University of California, Davis, began his research and quickly became the world’s leading scientific expert on gratitude. He found scientific proof that when people regularly work on cultivating gratitude, they are benefited psychologically, physically, and socially. Emmons says, “I’ve concluded that gratitude is one of the few attitudes that can measurably change lives.”

Benefits of Gratitude

The benefits of gratitude are far-reaching, and affects us physically, emotionally, and socially. Expressing our gratitude enables us to be happier and more optimistic, improves emotional and academic intelligence, and will heighten energy levels. It will strengthen connection in times of crises or loss, and will decrease levels of stress, anxiety, depression, and headaches. Being grateful boosts self-esteem, improves self-care, expands our ability to forgive, and can heighten spirituality. Surprisingly enough, gratitude also strengthens the heart and immune system, and is credited for decreased blood pressure.

Ways to Cultivate Gratitude

Cultivating gratitude is a personal practice; you may find what works for someone else does not work for you. One of the most powerful ways to develop and practice gratitude, and my personal favorite, is to keep a gratitude journal. The premise is to write about what you have done well each day (got up on time, ate a delicious lunch, connected with a co-worker, stayed patient in traffic, etc). This is a slight twist on simply writing something you are grateful for because it requires you to look at what YOU DID that day. It is a more active practice, rather than the passive practice of naming things or people in your life that you may or may not have come into contact with that day. The important thing is not the number of items on your list, but rather your consistency in writing in the journal.

Here are 10 more easy ideas you can implement into your daily life and quickly see the fortifying effects of being grateful:

  1. Take a few deep breaths at the start of your day to be grounded, present, mindful, in order to notice the good all around you.
  2. Make a ritual of 2-5 minute “gratitude meditations” (this is standard meditation but with the sole purpose of achieving greater levels of gratitude).
  3. Notice and linger on thoughts of positive moments from the day.
  4. Say ‘thank you’ often–particularly to those who serve you!
  5. Write a letter of thanks to someone who has made a difference in your life and give it to them in person if possible.
  6. Express gratitude at meals alone or with loved ones.
  7. Start a gratitude journal where you write down something you love/appreciate/admire about your partner daily (hint, hint, this makes a great birthday or Christmas present!).
  8. Make a list of specific things you appreciate about yourself (noticing your strengths is not boasting or prideful, it is empowering and uplifting!)
  9. Practice not gossiping, complaining or judging others for a day.
  10. Set limits on your social media intake in order to be more present in your own life.

I encourage you to start exercising gratitude today! We all have bad days, but instead of focusing on the negative aspects of those days, let’s try shifting the focus and think of the things we can be thankful for during that bad day. Make practicing gratitude a regular habit and you will see a change in how you view your day, week, month and year!  And, as always, if you need help getting through those tough times, contact me today and I would be happy to set up a session with you.

Melissa Cluff is a licensed marriage and family therapist based in Lewisville, Texas, personally seeing clients in the North Dallas area.

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