Holidays & vacations are supposed to be all smiles & fun & good times, but sometimes they blow up in your face. Just being real. That’s how it happens when someone is dealing with a physical illness, emotional issues, an addiction, unmet expectations, work stress, financial worries, or other big stressors. So, just like you, having had my share of celebrations that have gone really, really well & everyone is giddy with excitement, the photo album is bursting with excellent mementos to browse over & we’ve got stories galore to share & laugh over for centuries. And then we have those occasions that failed miserably like a firework rocket that did not just tip over, but exploded into the crowd & we are all ducking for cover into the nearest hydrangea bush or under a picnic table, trying to avoid the tongue lashing that poisons the entire party worse than spoiled potato salad. Sometimes it happens within the same day, with the same crowd! Sometimes it is not at a party & only happens over the phone, by email or text. But the end result is the same … there is carnage, it is shocking & super exhausting; & you end up not trusting how to act around the emotional time bombs for quite a long time until they get themselves under control.
Here are some survival strategies that I have learned:
1. First, own up. If you are the emotional time bomb, figure it out quickly & diffuse your own triggers. Nobody can do that for you. Once you can stop blowing up or reacting, you will be able to communicate in a more rationale, mature manner that will be received. This may mean giving yourself a timeout.
2. If someone else is the emotional time bomb, don’t take it personally, even if it is directed at you. This person is trying to communicate … but badly. It is their responsibility to manage themselves. Just recognize it. Don’t try to fix them. Especially family. Seriously. You’ve been warned. 😉
3. Practice wearing “giraffe ears” while engaging in compassionate listening. By doing this, you are able to hear everything the person is talking about, but from a perspective ‘above’ the conversation & not the direct target. Without the sting of the barb, we are able to apply empathy & compassion better, relating more to the other person & not get so caught up in the “ouch you are hurting me” aspect. How is this different than below, face-to-face, getting pummeled? Better? Worse? Indifferent? Are you able to learn something new?
4. Communication takes practice. Practice. Practice. Practice. You will do this until you die & never master it so stop thinking you are a pro.
5. Establish healthy boundaries for yourself. Take care of yourself first. Pardon my language, but it is complete b.s. if someone tells you that you have to put up with verbal or emotional abuse just because “it’s family”, or “they are sick”, whatever the excuse du jour is. Bad behavior is bad behavior, no excuse. I am also going to suggest a reframe on the word ‘boundary’ as some folks use it as wall, fence or barrier, when in fact it merely implies “healthy space” such as appropriate space between bodies, appropriate language, appropriate behavior between folks at work, appropriate distance to cool off emotions, etc. What is appropriate for you may be different than what another person defines, so again this must be communicated if you expect it to be respected & observed. Boundaries don’t change or go away just because someone is being nice or used as punishment. Boundaries should be respected all of the time.
6. Adult time outs. These aren’t just for children, everyone needs a chance to cool off & gather their thoughts. Use it constructively instead of plotting revenge or pouting. Meditate. Take a nap. Pet the dog or cat. Go for a walk. Tell knock-knock jokes with your kids. Read a book. Do yoga. Drink a glass of water or red wine. Go on Facebook & read something funny. Pull weeds. Take your mind off the problem at hand so you can calm down & redirect with some fresh perspective. Seriously, it works to take a small break & then come back refreshed & continue a conversation in an upbeat manner. If you come back in the ring swinging, determined to fight, you only lose the match, because nobody will engage with you a second time, or worse, you might just knocked out.
7. Know that you may not like or accept their bad behavior, but you will always love them in some way. This is what unconditional love is. If more people actually practiced this, others would not be afraid to open up & talk to one another willingly, without violence, threats, manipulation or lies. They would know & trust that they were loved & accepted as a person, & separate from their behavior. Behavior modification is a personal choice. If you are being impacted by someone else’s poor choices, then make your own choice to talk to them about it (another time if that was part of the original problem), or remove yourself from their space. Loving someone & allowing someone to continue to hurt you are not the same thing. You may need to ask for help in modifying your own behavior first, set boundaries & remember self worth.
8. Don’t be afraid to be alone. You can still have a great time by yourself, wherever you are, & sometimes enjoy it more without the chaotic drama! I had an incredible time in on a Nevada trip a few years ago post divorce AFTER I realized I did not have to spend it with the group I had traveled there to meet. Sometimes, you just need to have the courage to say goodbye & do your own thing.
9. Be flexible. Don’t blame others that your plans are ruined. Life is what happens while you are making the plans. It just might be time to step outside of your box that you are controlling the world from. If you have such a rigid nature that nothing can change or you don’t learn how to roll with the punches, you may be disappointed by every little thing & every person in daily life. Don’t sweat the small stuff. Remember it’s all small stuff. Life is easier once you let go a little.
10. Find something to be grateful for. Perhaps it is a child’s laugh, your dog’s happy dance, a new nail polish, your best friend’s hug, an exotic flower, a piece of water melon, or simply the smell of bacon. Find gratitude even in a disappointment, because when we learn a life lesson we can say “thank you for teaching me this lesson I don’t want to repeat!” It doesn’t take much. Practice gratitude, smile & go on! The polka band is calling you & the sun is warm today!
Love, Betsey xo
Elizabeth Garland, M.S., CPLC, MNLP, CGRS
Founder and Personal Development Coach with Soul Nourishing, LLC
Copyright 2014 Soul Nourishing