Ronald S. Newman, Ph.D.
Seeking balance in relationships at Christmas
Christmas is a time for joy for many and a time of sorrow for others. Inevitably, relationships are a central factor in how we perceive and experience the Christmas season. Lost relationships, through death or family division, lead to emotional grief. Healthy relationships lead to quality communication resulting in positive emotional experiences.
Here are some principles which can help make your Christmas experiences more enjoyable.
Bond through fun. Activities you can enjoy together increase your bond. Play games. Laugh together. Appreciate each other’s humor, but not at the expense of others, so resist sarcastic comments which can hurt.
Let go of past offenses. Forgiveness is more than half of the equation. Past hurts often lead to angry responses, including passive aggression and refusing to communicate, which can last for years in some families. Choose to let go of the past so you can give others the gift of your presence this Christmas.
Understand boundaries. You are not responsible for others and the choices they make, but only for your own personal decisions and actions. If others have a history of serious boundary violations (ex.- physical abuse), seek healthy ways to stay safe with clear ground rules for engagement.
Maintain a healthy self-concept. It is a foundation for healthy decision making. Embrace a merciful attitude toward yourself, letting go of shame or guilt for your past mistakes, after you have sought to repair damaged relationships. Hold to your value as an individual and as a member of your family, confident you have something positive to contribute.
Focus on others. The true meaning of Christmas is found in giving, so tuning in to the needs and desires of others is a key to experiencing the fruit of the holiday. Notice in particular those who may be more isolated or lonely, or the quieter members of the family.
Develop a thick skin. Inevitably, someone will say or do something you will experience as offensive. If possible, shield yourself from its impact by telling yourself, “I am not easy to offend.” Recognize that their criticism is from their limited point of view and decide whether or not it is worth addressing it further. If there is truth in it, learn from it.
Let go of a sense of entitlement. Remain humble and expect less than you might otherwise hope for. Expectations for gifts, including the time and attention of others who may disappoint us, can set us up for frustration and misery. Beware of conveying an attitude of arrogance which rubs others the wrong way. Pride makes you defensive in ways that stir up trouble in relationships.
Strive for unity. Either being a peacemaker or encouraging the peacemakers in your family to “do their thing” can help maintain unity in your family. Conflicts can be resolved as each side respects people expressing their different points of view, even if it means “agreeing to disagree agreeably”. (Note: All politicians need to learn this principle in order to be more effective.)
Apologize, if needed. When you know you have offended someone, be the first one to apologize, without any rationale as to why you did or said the offensive remark. You are taking responsibility for your part, not blaming the other for what may have triggered your behavior.
Resolve negative emotions. Seek to understand and accept negative emotional experiences, yet move beyond them to where you live life more fully so as to enjoy your positive emotional experiences as well. This will involve facing down and overcoming your fears, embracing healing for your hurts, letting go of your anger, and welcome joy when it appears.
Value love. Love is worth pursuing in all our relationships this Christmas, expressed in different ways. Spend time with and listen to others, perceive their needs, help where you can, and expect nothing in return. Now we are getting closer to the true meaning of the Christmas season.
Honor Christ. Think about the reason for His first coming in the flesh two-thousand years ago. Rejoice in the message of the Christmas carols we sing. Allow God’s love and grace to bring healing to your soul and your relationships with others. Keep Christ in Christmas. Let His Spirit and Truth be your guide this Christmas and throughout the new year.
Ronald S. Newman, Ph.D. is a psychologist in South Jersey who also does tele-therapy. His website, www.drronnewman.com has a blog designed to provide practical tips for managing a wide range of life problems. He also can be reached at (609) 567-9022.