03/18/2010 05:12 am ET Updated Nov 17, 2011

How To Voice Your Feelings Without Blowing Your Holiday Cork

Falalalala. Silver bells are ringing. The Salvation Army's kettles await donations. Shoppers are deciding how much to spend, if they shop at all, this year.

Workplace budgets are lower for holiday parties. Workers wrestle with the strain of expectations. With more length on the gift list than width in the wallet, tempers can flair, and it's a short trip from there down Blame Road. Meanwhile families are planning get-togethers. In short, the Holiday Season is at hand, with all that it brings. What do you hope yours brings?

Martha wasn't "having it" in the ho-ho-ho department. Being in what she called "a bit of a 'bah humbug,' the sound of silver bells ringing is only one more irritant. So, I asked her to join us in the 21 Day Challenge I proposed last week, (see "What Would Jesus and the Dalai Lama Say to Tiger Woods and Mike Huckabee"). Martha told me that despite her sour mood, she does realize that she wants to shift from the "Scrooge mindset", and needs to know how. I suggested she 'launch' the Challenge exercise, noting where, as my friend Eleanor might put it, 'complaint was rising looking for a place to land.'

While Martha might suffer from a case of the cranks, she's a mighty good sport. What she's discovering over the past 7 days, is that her complaining centers around her daughter-in-law, Debra. Debra is one of her 'Complaint Triggers.' In fact, even when Martha's complaining about traffic, like our reader BZ49 confessed, the thought she had before her traffic complaint centers on her "ungrateful daughter-in-law." Both HP readers are discovering from doing our exercise that they complain most when they feel out-of-control. Interesting.

Complaining seems to be a cover-story for something more difficult, and vital underneath. Blindalley, another HP reader taking the challenge, raises another important angle of shared complaining, which she terms 'supportive kvetching.' Don't you love it? Says Blindalley: "Isn't complaining sometimes a form of conversation? I have a dear cousin, we speak a few times a month. Inevitably we share our stories of the adventures and trials of growing older, our adult children and our grandchildren. It's our way of sharing, and it's always with love and more than a few laughs. Sometimes our families are going through very difficult times, unemployment, a child's divorce, and we talk frankly about our disappointments. These conversations are very comforting to me, and I think my cousin as well. We always say "I love you", or hang in there, better days are coming..." (To find my suggestion, see Archives for last week's blog, "What Would Jesus and the Dalai Lama Say to Tiger Woods...").

Sometimes, complaining gives us a mechanism to 'stay in the saddle' during challenging times. Witness the words of Pema, another Challenge participant, who puts it this way:

"Doc Cara...I hate to complain about you not wanting me to complain. I am midst quitting smoking and the only fun I am seeming to have in my detox is complaining about detoxing symptoms! hahaaa. The blog is a true gift so I'll take the challenge. But to keep from internally complaining I'll step up my meditation. Perhaps you can do a blog on communicating difficult issues and or feelings, thoughts without judgment, blame, complaints ..."

Four Tips to Communicate the Difficult without Blowing Your Cork:

1. Come back home to Center through practicing deep breathing in/breathing out.

2. Own your own choices. In Martha's case, she's realized no one forced her
to take Debra shopping, to buy the fabric Debra liked, or to make and hang
those curtains. Martha allowed herself to be hooked by Debra's
complaining, as she dove smack into her own old reactionary old pattern of
playing savior when finding herself caught off-guard in somebody's
complaint-fest. Apparently, this was how she self-organized around
discord as a child in her family of origin.

3. Tell the truth. State what you want to create. With kindness towards yourself, express the truth: that the way you've entered into action has neither served you nor the 'complainee' well. Tell the complainee what you are changing. Identify and voice the experience that you want to create. In Martha's case, she put it this way: "Debra, I've done you a disservice. You expressed unhappiness about the apartment you and Jeffrey have rented. I intruded on your experience, and did not trust that you could find the creative solution to what's been disturbing. Forgive me. The last thing either of us need is me playing savior-martyr. What I want is a relationship with you that is based on appreciation of who we are as unique women, both who love Jeffrey, each from our own role." Martha's also discovered, from her journal, that's she's used her girlfriends to complain about Debra, as a means of connecting with them, rather than going directly to her desire to connect, to move forward. Her clean-up went like this:

Forgive me for using you as my Complaint Department. I've wasted
our time moaning and groaning about what I don't have, rather than
appreciating what I do have with you. What I appreciate about you
is.... What I want to create with you is time where we enjoy each other,
time where we celebrate our friendship." Martha is a quick learner, and
willing to 'do the do.' Her results reflect her courage, and commitment.

4. Take back your life from complaints, using the saved energy to refuel your focus on gratitude. For Martha, this meant listing her girlfriends, who are "always there for me, no matter what!" Like HP reader, Pema, she's awakening to the fact that she's enlisted complaining as a mechanism for deeper connection with loved ones. What she really wants is connection. At the present time, Martha has decided to rewrite her focus as "...finding new ways of deepening intimacy with those I love, rather than 'blowing my cork' when someone doesn't do things my way, or takes me for granted." I suggested to Martha that she might want to consider how to create a deeper sense of intimacy and appreciation for her own Spirit during the holidays this year. Perhaps the next time we witness ourselves mid-complaint, we 'breathe in/breathe out,'
and treat yourself to greater kindness!

What have you found most helpful when you are 'blowing your cork?' If you have committed to the 21 Day Challenge, what are you noticing? What are your 'well-dones'? Where do you need to be kinder to yourself? What's happening for you and your buddy? If you aren't enrolled yet, it's not too late! Sign up here, and please pass this along to your contacts so that we are all a source of peace, joy, and love this year, this month, and this day. During the next week, let's keep a look-out for our Complaint Triggers. And, if you haven't become a fan, just hit the icon with 'becomes a fan,' and create more ease in your system! Love and joy, Cara