It is a tradition in American culture(s) to spend time with relatives during the holiday season. We will not judge this practice. Embedded within this tradition, we all have that one relative (hopefully not more) who loves to push your buttons. These buttons activate dark emotional places inside you that you would rather keep locked in an unused closet. These are powerful emotions such as shame, anger, remorse and fear. Some of us only have one or two such buttons. Some of us have more buttons than a skyscraper elevator. But whatever your number, the button-pushing relative knows. He/she possesses the intuitive knowledge of exactly how and where to push these invisible buttons.
As the day of the holiday gathering looms closer, your attempts to find excuses not to attend, begin to border on the desperate. You are waiting for the mail carrier or your dog is sick. Well there is no mail on Christmas day and you don't have a dog. So you finally suck it up and attend, partly out of a sense of obligation and partly because you don't want those button emotions to get any bigger.
You are now at Aunt Trudy and Uncle Herbert's place, surrounded by what feels like 200 tons of family. And you might be pretty accurate. Then you spot the button-pusher approaching you. Your mouth dries up, your heart rate mimics speed metal and you want to run. But you can't because you are blocked by walls of flesh. So you simply wait for the onslaught.
After a few inane pleasantries are exchanged, the button pushing begins. You may find yourself in some of these or your button-pusher may be more creatively sadistic.
- "You look so lovely since losing a few pounds. Don't eat too many sweets today!" ``chuckle``
- "It's so sad you got laid off and such a shame that you can't find work." ``evil clown grin``
- "Sorry to hear Linda left you. You weren't quite right for her anyway." ``patronizing back pat``
- "Such a shame your band isn't getting any gigs. Eventually somebody will like your music."
- "Are you here alone? Again?" ``looking around the room with mean eyes``
Now all of those powerful emotions have been let out of the closet and are crashing and roiling inside you. You feel like hell and wish you could simply disappear. In the past when this person has pushed your buttons, your reactions have varied from charging your way to the bathroom to cry to standing frozen like a dumb-ass statue to punching him/her in the face. None of these reactions are conducive to good holiday cheer.
Here's the cool thing. You don't ever have to feel like this again. Ever. Seriously. It will take a little work on your part and it's really quite simple. As the button-pusher gathering approaches, do these two things. They are both of equal importance and they blend and work together.
- Do not take anything personally. Whatever he/she says to you is a reflection of what is going on inside him or her. Frequently when people are hurting, they will try to make themselves feel better by trying to hurt others. It has nothing to do with YOU. Even when they are trying to make it personal, it still has nothing to do with you. When you are not taking anything personally, there are no dark emotions hidden in a closet. All of your emotions are honest and open. When you are not taking anything personally, you get to feel calm inside and there really aren't any emotions that feel better than that.
- Be the best possible YOU. If certain words or actions are against your own personal code of ethics, don't do them. Do things like be honest. Help others. Be accountable for your daily responsibilities. Don't be arrogant or expect perfection because that won't happen. Just be the best YOU and you will find that you automatically don't take anything personally. And again, you get to feel calm inside.
With your new positive arsenal, go to the family gathering and enjoy your time. And if you so desire, when the button-pushing comments are made, simply smile and say something like..."Happy you could make it here this year. Merry Christmas." The momentary awkward newness of this will be far out-weighed by the long term calm.
Happy Holidays to you and ALL your relatives!