With Christmas approaching, busy-ness is gathering pace. Despite looking forward to the holiday season, many people can find this time of year stressful. Expectations about how Christmas should be can place pressure on us, which can feel overwhelming. It’s easy to make comparisons between our personal situation and the images portrayed on television and social media. So being mindful about this can help make this time more manageable, happy and peaceful.
Behind the tradition of gift-giving is the story of a real man, who lived in modern-day Turkey. He became known for his kindness in helping the poor and giving gifts secretly to help people in need. He later became known as St. Nicholas.
Even further back is the original Christmas, with the birth of a baby, Jesus, in a stable, in Bethlehem, Israel. In the first Christmas, there was no glitter, and the circumstances of his birth were humble, even by the standards of 2000 years ago. Yet he would have a profound impact on history. One of the messages in these stories is that the impact we have on others defines us far more than possessions or social approval.
Healthy relationships provide connection and support. Being able to share the reality of our lives, helps us to find common ground, and reduce stress. However, relationships don’t just happen. They take work to build and maintain, and there are inevitable frustrations and disappointments.
Dr John Gottman (see Gottman.com) has devoted his career to helping couples and families improve relationships. He stresses that the way we listen and speak to each other, shapes not only the relationship but also has an impact on personal health. He pointed to four negative styles that he called The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, because of how they damage relationships. These are: criticism, defensiveness, contempt and stonewalling.
Criticism involves raising an issue in a way that focuses on the other person’s character, inferring some kind of blame or defectiveness, rather than telling them how you feel, what you need, and what you would like to be different.
Defensiveness is a way of trying to avoid issues by trying to shift responsibility or blame onto the other person, rather than listening to them.
Contempt involves putting others down or implying that they are inferior. Contempt is the single best predictor of relationship failure. The antidote to contempt is to express appreciation for each other. This also reduces tension and stress.
Stonewalling involves ignoring or avoiding what the other person is saying. Stonewalling causes stress and raises the heart rate, because it puts the person in a no-win situation. Stonewalling can be avoided by taking time to calm down and come back to the issue later.
We all can say the wrong thing, particularly when disagree-ments become heated. Being able to come back and talk calmly, can help mend any hurt that has been caused. Talking reflectively without getting defensive or upset helps to restore the connection, respect and trust.
Christmas can place a lot of stress on relationships. Perhaps the following may provide a pause for quiet reflection:
What do relationships mean for me?
When I am with others, am I listening, or preoccupied with my own thoughts?
Do I jump to conclusions or check with others if I’m not sure what they are trying to say?
Do I think before I react?
Are my relationships “ME” or “US”?
Do I take my stress out on people around me?
Are there winners and losers in my relationships, or do we help each other out?
Do I notice positive things about others, or do I point out the negative?
Wishing you a safe and peaceful Christmas.
Anne Ward is an executive coach and principal psychologist of Mindinsight, providing evidence-based psychology services to adults, children and adolescents. Visit www.mindinsight.com.au or phone 4942 7660 for more information.