For many, the holidays are less a time of joy and excitement than a season marked by provocation and disappointed. If you are on Instagram, Facebook, and other social media sites, it can look like everyone is having a wonderful time out there except for you. Even though we all know that what people typically post online is a highly selective slice of life, it can still create longing for the happy holidays that many of us never really had.
Mix all that with today’s political climate, the societal pressure to overspend, and the stress and aggravation of travel, and being with family during the holidays can often be the scene of conflict rather than contentment. Apart from dealing with all of the difficult people that every family seems to include, the aspect of getting together with family that can be the most troublesome is falling back into the familiar roles we have played with each other since childhood.
A new approach to old grievances
In previous articles for Current, I have offered suggestions for using Nonviolent Communication to manage aggravation and annoyances by having empathy for oneself, while considering other people’s experiences so that we may build connection and understanding. Because the holidays are like everyday life’s challenges on steroids, let’s up our game.
First step: When you have a negative story in your head about someone, shift the criticism to imagine what the person may be longing for that they don’t have.
Here are a few examples.
Criticism: Cousin Billy is such a loud mouth. He’s always interrupting, hogging the conversation, and bragging.
Imagine what it might be like for Billy: Billy may be lonely and insecure.
Unmet Need: Billy wishes to be respected and seen for his efforts.
Criticism: Aunt Claire is judgmental and selfish. She always has something bad to say about people different from herself—and worse, she’s a bigot!
Imagine what life is like for Claire: she doesn’t have much life experience other than her small town friends. Maybe she is frightened and worried.
Unmet Need: Claire wants to know she is safe and secure.
Identify common needs
Once we can imagine what life may be like for someone else, it’s easier to imagine what they might long for in their lives, like respect, connection, safety, predictability, and care. You may realize that you have the same needs as the person you are criticising, but are using different strategies to meet those needs. When you understand that all humans have the same needs, it becomes easier to relate to other people. NVC may not work for every person in every situation, but it is a way to bring more peace to yourself and more connection with others as you navigate the holidays with your family.