~ Last Updated November 18th 2016 ~
“Are there holiday plans you make over and over, forgetting they only cause you suffering and pain?”
Think back to how your plans really turned out …
- A road trip / vacation with your kids.
- Bringing up an issue you had with your spouse’s family.
- Opening a second or third bottle of wine over dinner.
- Bringing your extended family together for Thanksgiving and Christmas.
I am going to share an exercise with you that might help you avoid a few common holiday season pitfalls that can cause these type of plans to not turn out how you planned. But first, to understand why this exercise is so important, I need to explain a little about what I call our ‘two brains’.
Did you know that emotions and problem solving often work at odds with each other?
These two areas of our brains tend to be active at different times (when one ‘switches on’ the other will ‘switch off’) and each sees the world very differently.
One symptom of this is that humans tend to be very bad at predicting how things we plan are likely to make us feel. This is sometimes known as our brains being faulty simulators.
I like to think of our 2 brains as the tortoise and the hare :
Your Tortoise Brain: (pre frontal upper cortex) Is better with social skills and logic and is prone to be cautious and not ‘over react’. It is a better problem solver (and to help you remember the top of your head is also tortoise shaped!). Your tortoise brain however is not so good at sensing danger or disrespect and is terrible at knowing how things are likely to make you feel.
Your Hare Brain: (amygdala) Thinks much faster and tends to be more intuitive. It knows a lot about you and is very good at sensing opportunity and danger but can be highly reactive and cause you to say and do things you might regret later (or leave you scared and with nothing to say when you really should have spoken up).
- Do you have relatives that ‘get the better of you’ when they make condescending or belittling comments?
- Do you disagree with the politics or religious beliefs of some members of your family and often end up getting in arguments and fights?
- Are there members of your family who put you down to make themselves feel more important?
- Are some members of your family hyper critical or over sensitive and defensive?
The mistake we often make is thinking that our emotional reaction to these people and situations in the past was the whole problem (I shouldn’t have got so angry) and once the upset has passed we pretend that in future we won’t react like that again. The hare is always much faster than the tortoise however and so no matter how good your intentions are about ‘next time’ . . . ‘next time’ the same thing will happen again.
Vowing that you will not let yourself react simply won’t work. You need to remember that the hare will always be faster than the tortoise!
So this year plan ahead and practice better responses to have on hand for situations you can already guess might be coming . . . because planning ahead is the only way that the tortoise will win the race ‘next time’.
There is no more important time for this than Thanksgiving and Christmas, a time when family conflict can all too easily break out.
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Hang in there!
Lets get the comments rolling here and I will try and give everyone as much individual advice as I can!
This Post Has 3 Comments
Wow! Brilliant, Kim. So many people find family events a source of stress and misery. Theoretically there is the option of staying away, but that can create its own emotional challenges and family conflicts. Your guidance will help us step into tricky family situations with so much more confidence. Thank you!!
I have 2 family members who can be quite sarcastic with me especially on these occasions. My husband uses the family audience to make funny, but belittling comments about me that usually get a laugh but leave me feeling hurt or angry. My older sister does this as well, but when I called her on it recently, she claimed she didn’t mean anything and cried because I had criticized her for having harmless fun, then later called me “over-sensitive.” So, both ignoring and confronting haven’t worked.
I appreciate your advice, Kim, and the suggestions in the short movie with Liz Laugeson. I’m practicing a bored, dismissive ‘whatever’ to try out this holiday season. I like it because it’s a way to demonstrate strength right there in the moment.
Hey Abbey, Yes that is perfect that you understand it must be in the moment! Start looking and watching what other people do and your ideas of how to handle this will start to develop and grow!