Friday, 16 December 2011

Q7: Family Calm at Christmas – Is it Possible?

With an extra supplement especially for parents!

What makes for a happy Christmas? At a time when friends and family mean so much, our communication is no doubt an essential ingredient. Whether we’re at an office party or a family gathering, celebrations are not without their pressures. Like that glass of Christmas punch, our feelings may be hotter, spicier and more potent than usual. It’s no surprise when stresses bubble up and affect our interactions. In those tricky moments, what can we do to stay calm?

In our last blog, a reader asked about how to handle things in the heat of the moment, when we find ourselves ‘losing our rag’.  In this article, we look at ways to support you in finding seasonal peace...

Heat-of-the-moment recipe for Seasonal Peace!

   Pause when you’re under stress
   Explore your feelings to find the underlying ‘No!’ or ‘Not alright!’
   Allow whatever feelings you have right now; they carry important messages
   Create space to find what has gone missing for you
   Explore your own needs and wishes – so your deeper resources can respond

Read on for more …

‘Losing our rag’
There are times when we deeply wish to be loving and kind, and yet something else happens. Despite our best intentions, something makes us lash out at our nearest and dearest. But why do we do this? What prompts our irritable comments, or those underhand, snide asides? And how can we avoid the bitter aftertaste of guilt or regret? There are pertinent questions at any time of year.

‘Feelings are Friends’
It’s easy to criticise ourselves for letting our emotions get the upper hand. But feelings (even ‘difficult’ ones) hold important information. They give us extraordinarily subtle and skilful feedback. They show us how we’re affected by what goes on around us. In complex, many-layered ways, feelings like irritation, frustration or anger express a baseline message: ‘No!’, This is not okay!’, ‘This is not all right!’.

Taking note of this baseline response is helpful. If we stay caught up, stressed and entangled by our feelings, we miss their useful message. Feelings are there for a reason, and it’s always worth listening to them. So the first step is to see what the ‘No!’ is all about. Pause! Take time out from the immediate situation (even a couple of seconds, as you breathe deeply), and ask:

What are my feelings telling me?
What has gone missing for me right now?
What is it I need?

Old situations, new approaches
When we pause in this way, we do something revolutionary. We redirect our attention away from what has gone wrong ‘out there’, and back into our own responses. This allows our deeper resources to come to our aid.

‘Difficult’ feelings are telling us what we don’t want. But we also have an inbuilt sense of how far we are from feeling fine; somewhere within us, we know what fine would be like. If we pause and listen, we clear a space for this newer understanding to emerge. Our deeper resources hold what we need to live freely and happily this very moment.

“But losing my temper is so tempting!”
So why is it so much easier to lose our temper, than to pause? It’s because we want to get a vital message across – and we’re at our wits’ end how else to do it! ‘Difficult’ feelings are difficult for a reason. Like flashing lights on a dashboard, or fireworks at a party, they grab people’s attention. With uncanny precision, we target our sharp comments to land in the most sensitive places; we do very thing to provoke a reaction. Why? Because that’s how we get noticed!

The inner logic of feelings
It’s like this: If you prod me, I prod you back. In the heat of the moment, I want you to feel what I feel – the same degree of hurt or frustration that you have caused in me. So I invest my words with a visceral charge designed to make you feel. Feel what? I snap, carp, niggle – at whatever level of intensity, I try to make you feel bad. In the heat of the moment, anger is designed to hurt. And if I teach you this lesson now (perhaps if I scare you badly enough), then presumably you will not make the same mistake again!

Temper – the instant messaging service
We can see how getting angry with somebody is an embattled bid for empathy. It’s a desperate attempt teach someone the consequences of their actions. Strong words and flying tempers are a truly magnificent shortcut. They send two instant messages:

1.      You discover how your words/behaviour feels for me!
2.      You learn not to do it again!

But will communication of this sort work? Will the other person really hear our instant messages for what they are? Or will they feel hurt and angry in return?

And how about us? Our temper gives clear and important messages, letting others know we suffer. But delivering them in this way can affect us too. Hurting our nearest and dearest also hurts us. We are intimately linked; empathy is a natural, inbuilt part of our relationships. This is why we can feel so guilty later for making a sharp remark. If we could get our instant messages across with friendship or love, no doubt we would. But how?

Active kindness
When difficult feelings bubble up, the first step is to find someone who can understand – someone who can empathise. Empathy gives us the human understanding and love we need to deal with a difficult situation. Empathy brings harmony.

Yet tricky moments often happen because the very people who normally love and empathise with us are the ones causing us difficulties! In these moments, we need a different magic. It means finding empathy for ourselves.

So whatever challenges you face, leave room for yourself. Remember: strong feelings hold the key. Their message is to come home to yourself. Be kind towards your own experience, your own needs. Once you allow and accept the message of strong feelings, then your deeper resources will respond naturally – with empathy for yourself, and for others too.

Heat-of-the-moment recipe for Seasonal Peace!

   Pause when you’re under stress
   Explore your feelings to find the underlying ‘No!’ or ‘Not alright!’
   Allow whatever feelings you have right now; they carry important messages
   Create space to find what has gone missing for you
  Explore your own needs and wishes – so your deeper resources can respond

Christmas calm – Do we want perfection?
Being human is a learning curve, and perhaps arriving at perfection is not even be the point! Let’s relish the journey of our perfections and imperfections. Without the grit, no pearls...

(So if you want pearls for Christmas - here’s your chance!)

Extra supplement for parents

Is this relevant to parents?
For a busy parent, the very idea of inner resources may seem laughable. What about those very basic resources such as relaxation, free time, rest, sleep…? Never mind taking a creative pause – in the hurly-burly of childcare, it’s immediate solutions that are needed! Sorting out an upset may itself prove a miracle – let alone doing that calmly!

How Do Children Learn?
1.              Handling Tricky Moments

“Children must learn!”
How can we have a peaceful life, where fun and play come happily, without upset?
What we do is to educate. Parents naturally teach. We want our children to behave sensibly; to treat others with consideration. If they don’t learn basic rules and behaviours, we fear for their happiness and safety. We want our kids to know where they stand. That’s why parents often feel that a cross outburst, or a flash of temper, is the best shortcut. Sometimes we shout ‘for the child’s own good’.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks again, Locana, for hitting the spot! Your advice of pausing and watching what feelings are arising and being kind to them has really helped me with my mother- and brother-in-law (and my husband, too!).