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Stress and Family: Spending Holidays With 'Loved Ones' Who Aren't Very Nice to You

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Below the surface of many family holiday gatherings are mini dramas playing out, contemporary grudges and resentments and unresolved childhood issues. Nothing hurts with such emotional depth as these familial battles. For the tender-hearted, this can be a psychological mine field while self-righteous bullies reign unchallenged. Many silently suffer through these events while dutifully and unconsciously assuming their childhood role as the family black sheep or underdog. Those in secondary roles are often either complicit or oblivious, leaving the underdog to fend for his or herself. Here are seven strategies for doing it differently this year.

Strategy 1: See it for what it is. The bottom line of these battles is that they are mere reflections of the level of consciousness of the participants involved. Most bullies and tyrants have failed to evolve psychologically past their childhoods and are simply functioning out of a juvenile state of consciousness. Typically, they are caught in a win/lose mentality that drives them to perceive themselves as a winner at the expense of someone else. Putting you down is driven by a desperate attempt to put themselves up. In this sense, you are simply a means to an end and their attack on you is really nothing personal. You cannot evolve another person's consciousness for them. Any attempt to address the matter head on with them will simply further ignite their battle position. On the flip side of this, is there any merit to the accusations and judgments lodged against you? If so, are you willing or able to change? If so, only do so for your own highest good and not to seek the approval of others.

Strategy 2: Stay conscious in the present and study how the dynamic works. Remember, it takes two to tango. Play detective with the situation and notice how this other person gets to you. Is it through sarcastic remarks? Giving you the silent treatment? Disdainful looks? Just how do they communicate their rejection and judgment of you? How do they hook you into their game? Pay attention to your own behavior as well. Do you comply by feeling and behaving like a victim? Do you try to defend yourself against their attacks? Does this drama dominate your entire experience? How do you buy in to this other person's point of view?

Strategy 3: Stand tall in your own integrity and truth. Be at the cause of your own behavior rather than at the effect of others. Stop behaving in relationship to this person. Don't buy into the familiar emotional territory of your childhood. Be your own grown-up person. Stop focusing on them and focus on yourself. Be who you know yourself to be rather than jumping into the underdog or black sheep costume of your childhood. Get out of reactionary mode and simply be yourself. By moving your attention away from the bully, you stop feeding on or into the situation.

Strategy 4: Stop wanting or expecting the other person to change. Before entering the situation, psyche yourself up. Remind yourself that this other person is probably never going to change his or her behavior toward you. Make your consciousness big enough to let that happen without being the center of your attention. Make peace with it. Let it be so without trying to change it in any way. Focus instead on learning how to stay true to yourself in the presence of someone who belittles you. Stop giving them your power. Remember that both of you have the freedom to choose how you will behave. Take the high road and don't expect them to join you.

Strategy 5: Practice forgiveness. If you find yourself having a hard time with the situation, launch yourself into forgiveness mode in the privacy of your own mind. Forgive yourself for judging yourself for any judgments you have against yourself or the other person. Keep doing this as judgments come up. Neutralize them with forgiveness. If you don't really feel the forgiveness, do it anyway -- fake it till you make it.

Strategy 6: Step free of the drama and choose to have a healthy, good time. Setting and holding to the intention of doing it differently goes a very long way. Choose out of the drama and into having an authentically good time. Give more of your attention and interest to other people at the gathering. Help out in the kitchen. Just find some way to do it all differently. If you typically sit in a corner, get up and mingle. Find a buffer -- someone you can engage with to shift your focus. Just do whatever it takes to keep moving your attention away from the drama and into finding new ways to be with your family. By doing it differently, you will elicit different responses.

Strategy 7: Strike out on your own for the holidays. If your family gatherings are simply unbearable for you, don't go! There is no law that you have to spend the holidays with your family. What does the holiday mean to you? If it is about being with your family -- then figure out how to do that using the first six strategies above and evolve a place for yourself that nurtures and supports you. If the meaning of the holiday is about the deeper religious message it brings, then find other people to be with who share your beliefs. Maybe you just want to have a light-hearted time. If so, then give yourself the gift of creating that for yourself with our without other people. Take ownership of your own experience and create a happy and blessed holiday for yourself.

The holidays come and go every year. Don't stay stuck in a bad emotional drama. The willingness to do it differently will always create the means and ability you need. Trust yourself and have the courage to step free. Happy holidays, everyone.

Please feel free to leave a comment below, or to contact me at judithjohnson@hvc.rr.com. You can also retweet this post, share it on Facebook or email it to friends who may enjoy it. To learn more about me, visit my website, www.judithjohnson.com or my Facebook page "Tending to Your Ending." For information on my future blogs, click "Fan" at the top of this page.

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