It’s a good old-fashioned Christmas meet-up with family, friends and acquaintances.
So who’s here? There’s your aunt who tries to emotionally manipulate you. There’s that old family friend who always makes inappropriate remarks about your body. Over there’s your cousin who never fails to give you “helpful” diet tips. She’s talking to your mother who’s giving you “that look”.
And there’s you – mindlessly eating mince pies in an attempt to deal with the stress and misery.
If you come away from holiday gatherings feeling hurt and diminished, instead of loved and cherished, it can feel like you’re having yourself a Scary (rather than a Merry) Little Christmas.
I have a few ideas I hope might help you navigate difficult Christmas gatherings (follow the links in each heading for more info):
Acknowledge your vulnerability. All of us – yes, all of us – have a part within us that is vulnerable. Sometimes that vulnerable part needs reassurance and to be told everything’s going to be OK. The best person to offer that reassurance is you, so be gentle with yourself.
Know who you are. Before entering any situation in which you feel vulnerable, remind yourself who you are and what you’re capable of. For example, “I’m a strong, independent, grounded individual and I can handle this experience”.
Remember your boundaries. When the Starship Enterprise is facing attack (odd analogy, let’s go with it, shall we?) Captain Kirk doesn’t give the order to roll over and surrender. Instead, he issues the command “Shields up!” to protect the ship and everyone in it. Imagine you have your own protective shield – you can still interact with others but no one can get close enough to hurt you.
Observe, rather than react. When we’re attacked by others we tend to react because we’re driven by emotion. Take a breath. Observe what’s going on in you. Try to acknowledge what you’re feeling. Then observe what might be going on with the other person. For example, was their critical remark about you, or really about them?
Lower your shields when appropriate. It’s not great to keep our distance from everyone because human beings need connection and relationship. Gravitate towards the people you feel good around – they’re the ones worthy of your time and energy. Recognise who you’ll allow close to you and appreciate the value they add to your life.
Have an escape plan. If you can’t avoid toxic people altogether, can you limit your interaction with them? Your time belongs to you so decide how much of it you’re willing to give to others. Put in a time boundary before you arrive and stick to it.
People may try to diminish you, but you don’t have to feel diminished. You know who you are, so show them. Be assertive, not aggressive. You can still be warm and friendly while not taking any shit.
You deserve to leave any Christmas meet-up with your sense of self intact.
So shields up, people. Good luck.
And remember, boundaries are for life, not just for Christmas.