How to Successfully Navigate Holiday Family Dynamics

Holiday family dynamics can be very interesting and often trigger an emotional response within people and negative expectations (this may have already occurred at your Thanksgiving gathering!). Couple that with the stress of the holidays and we can get a potentially toxic brew of tension.  What can you do about it? You do not need to dread this holiday season or the time you will spend with family; self-mastery is just a few steps away.

Many of us would like to be more aware of our emotional intelligence and how we use it every day. What is emotional intelligence?  It is an awareness of our emotions, the emotions of others and using that awareness to manage ourselves and our relationships with others. The thoughts we have about ourselves, our lives and others can drive our emotions which impacts our behavior. You can enhance your holiday experience by effectively using your emotional intelligence  both at work and at home.

Here are a few tips to achieve self-mastery and make the most out of the family interactions you will have this season and into the future:

Develop an optimistic expectancy– Consider what your expectations are for the upcoming holidays. Do you anticipate that the gatherings are going to be dysfunctional, tense and miserable, or happy, lively and fun?  Are you optimistic or pessimistic in your approach to the holidays?  Our expectations are usually driven by past experiences. Many of us recall negative family interactions more readily than the positive ones and base our holiday expectations on those negative experiences. Life tends to bring us what we are focused on. Consider revising your expectations and develop an expectancy of the best possible holiday experience. Instead of having expectations for things to go bad, develop an optimistic expectancy that your gathering will be more of what you want it to be. Create a vision of what that looks like and do your part to make it a reality.

Tune into your self-awareness – What are you bringing into this holiday that you would like to release? Self-awareness is our ability to recognize what we are feeling, why we are feeling it and the meaning we have attached to it. When interactions become negative, it can be easier for us focus on somebody else and what they did and ignore what our contribution was to that situation. We all seem to have buttons our family can push, yet we allow ourselves to get swept up into the drama. Own your personal baggage and allow yourself to release it. I have often marveled at how we will treat a perfect stranger better than we treat people we love. Why is that? Is it the old adage that familiarity breeds contempt?  Or, do we just expect those we love to forgive our transgressions automatically and therefore we no longer take responsibility for how we are treating them? Turning our focus inward is a courageous path. It isn’t always easy to see our warts and foibles. Developing our self-awareness is a key to self-mastery and a requirement for mastering stress.

Do you look for reasons to be offended? Are you anticipating what zing you will say when a family member pushes your buttons?  We can choose our responses to people instead of simply reacting to them. A reaction tends to be an unconscious act, while a response is more thoughtful and reasonable. Think about being flexible and open. According to Steven Stein, PhD., flexibility is being able to “adjust your emotions, thoughts and behavior to changing circumstances.” When someone else is getting stressed, do not respond in kind. Use some empathy and try to tune into and appreciate the feelings of others. Also, try some humor. If you tend to be critical of your family members, stop. Remember to focus on being kind versus right. Time and again I see that people do what they know and when they know better they do better.This applies to all of us.

Each of us can be a beacon of light this holiday season. According to Norma A. Hawkins, surrounding our loved ones with the expectancy of good is an effective way of encouraging them to be the best that they can be. Wouldn’t you want someone to do that for you? Choose to be proactive and at peace this holiday season by focusing on self-mastery. You are the only person you have any control over. The holiday season can be a time of incredible joy if we choose to approach whatever comes up from the best we have to offer within ourselves and model that for others.

Happy Holidays to you and yours!

See It Thrive™ specializes in transforming dysfunctional human dynamics within organizations, communities and with individuals. We empower people and organizations to maximize their success by improving leadership, communication, and emotional/behavioral intelligence skills, driving down drama and dysfunction.  We elevate performance, minimize turnover and improve the bottom line through our behavioral intelligence consulting, leadership and team development, conflict management, and executive coaching programs. Sue Kenfield is also available as a speaker on the topics listed above. Contact us to learn more.

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