Despite looking forward to the approaching holiday season the lead up to Christmas can be a stressful time of year. Expectations about Christmas can place pressure on individuals and families. 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.
Social relationships provide a way to give and receive connection and support. Being able to share the reality of our lives helps us to find common ground and reduce stress. However, relationships take work to build and maintain.
Dr John Gottman has devoted his career to helping people build healthy relationships. He places particular importance on the way that communication styles shape relationships. He pointed to four negative styles that he called The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, because of how they impact relationships. These are: criticism, defensiveness, contempt and stonewalling.
Criticism involves raising an issue in a way that focuses on anothers character, inferring some kind of blame or defectiveness, rather than sharing 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. 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 contributes to a sense of isolation and can be avoided by taking time to calm down and come back to the issue later.
We all can say things we later regret, particularly when disagreements become heated. Being able to come back and talk calmly can help repair hurt or misunderstanding. Talking reflectively without getting defensive or upset helps to restore connection, respect and trust. Gottman refers to this as building a culture of appreciation.
Adversity can place a strain on relationships. My thoughts go out to the communities, families and businesses struggling in the wake of drought and bushfires. Wishing you a safe, peaceful Christmas.
Anne Ward is principal psychologist of Mindinsight, providing evidence-based psychology and coaching services. Mindinsight is located in the T&G Building at 45 Hunter Street Newcastle. Phone 4942 7660 or visit www.mindinsight.com.au for more information.