Professional Student of Life
Adventures in personal growth
A lovely thing about Christmas is that it’s compulsory, like a thunderstorm, and we all go through it together. ~ Garrison Keillor
It’s that time of year again, full of mixed feelings: anticipation and dread, celebration and stress, connection and alienation, all wrapped up in Christmas paper and topped with a shiny bow. Let’s all take a deep breath and set the intention that this year, for once, we’ll stay in our own business, own our own projections, and see what comes up as the perfect opportunity for personal growth. That truly would be a Christmas miracle.
Family-of-origin issues are classic components of the holiday season, which is fraught with memory as well as real-time, close-quarters contact with many people who are safely at arm’s distance the rest of the year. I’ve already had my first bout with this, and the first opportunity to put my “personal growth” intention to the test. These are the things I’m concentrating on to keep out of trouble:
1. Staying in my own business. This means rigorously watching my own reactions so that I can be aware when I’m starting to feel triggered, and then taking care of my own needs rather than expecting someone else to change so that I don’t feel triggered. It also means not trying to rescue or fix anyone, not “setting anyone straight,” not trying to control people or situations... in other words, not doing most of the things I count on for holiday entertainment once the turkey is dispatched.
2. Owning my own projections. In practice, this means questioning any and all assumptions I might be making. I may be positive, based on decades of personal research, that so-and-so is thinking such-and-such, but can I really know for sure? Nope. So maybe I can give them the benefit of the doubt. Projections happen when you feel triggered by one of your own issues. You’re upset, you “project” that feeling outward, and all of a sudden everything everyone says contains a sinister double meaning. When I’m feeling reactive, I try to be extra cautious about how I interpret others’ words and behavior.
Unfortunately, even if you do both of the above perfectly it won’t necessarily keep you out of conflict, because everyone else probably hasn’t gotten the same memo. If the fight finds you in spite of your best efforts, you can still use these two strategies to minimize the damage.
First, resist the urge to fight back and take the argument into the enemy’s camp. Offense might win games in football, but it doesn’t help to keep the peace. Try to listen calmly to the other person’s grievance and begin by clarifying any misunderstandings or false assumptions they might have made. Then apologize sincerely if that’s warranted, but remember that you aren’t responsible for the other person’s projections, only your own. Sometimes people just see what they want, or expect, to see. You may be sorely tempted to justify or defend yourself, but it rarely helps.
Once you’ve taken care of your part in the conflict, be willing to let it go. This is probably the hardest part of all, but you can console yourself with the knowledge that you’ve just done some really impressive personal growth. Go get another piece of pie and know that I’m cheering you on in spirit.
May there be peace in all of our homes and hearts, in this season and always! And if there can’t be peace, at least let there be personal growth.
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