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Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Making Christmas Work - Dealing with Difficult People

 Dealing with Difficult People Difficult Family Members at the Holidays

Two days, 800 miles. The girl child has been safely delivered to school. I drag the overnight bag upstairs and drop it next to the bed. My first order of business is to find a toothbrush and brush the taste of stale coffee and cold french fries from my mouth. That task complete I contemplate my next move. 
It is 86 degrees and humid. A swim would be refreshing and a little exercise after two days crammed in the car would feel good.
The dishwasher needs to be unloaded. The car needs to be cleaned. The kittens sit next to the litter pan giving me pointed looks.
What to do. What to do. Hmm.

Flopping down at my desk I click on Pinterest and see lots of Christmas pins.  I'm a little surprised because it is, after all, the middle of summer. Then I glance at the date. 
"Holy holly berries, Christmas is JUST 4 months away." I mutter.
And  immediately developed an gnawing feeling in the pit of my stomach.  

Now, I love Christmas. I love the preparations and decorations. I love the crafts, the baking, the parties, the shopping. I like Christmas with all the bells and whistles. In good times or bad, in the money or flat busted no-presents-to-give, I  love Christmas.

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 What I don't love is some of the stress holidays seem to bring. 
What I don't love is how much more difficult difficult people seem to be around the holidays.

Last year after a particularly stressful holiday season I knew  I needed to build a better Christmas. I needed to make Christmas work.


I admitted as much to a couple of the ladies who meet at a local coffee shop. "Last Christmas was very stressful.  I felt depressed and defeated. I need to find some ways to deal with family expectations, poor communicators, and those who refuse to be pleased. Help. I need a plan. Give me some advice." 

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 One of the ladies, Mary, told me that one year three days before Christmas she was seized by this sudden desire to drag the tree and every decoration out to the curb. She said, "I wanted to meet my step children at the door and scream, "You win! You are horrible, horrible people! I can't please any of you. I give up trying!"  
She said what stopped her was the realization that that was exactly the reaction they wanted from her. They wanted to push her buttons until she blew up, at which point she would be the 'bad guy'.  No one else seemed to see what was going on. Individually her complaints sounded like the petty annoyances of every day family life. "I thought I was turning into a nut job," Mary said. Finally she made a list of the behaviors the children were engaging in that she found stressful. 
  • Chronic lateness - Dinner is when?
  • Pushing  food around the plate, pretend to eat, eating excruciatingly slowly, cutting food up into tiny, tiny bits, eating one bit at a time with exaggerated motions . 
  • The Secret Society - texting, making faces, giggling, making inside jokes, while at the table or in front of their target,  
  • Personal items disappearing or mysteriously broken
  •  Being made the brunt of continual small practical jokes 
  • Verbal agreement to requests but failure to comply ( Please put your dish in the sink, replace paper towels, clean up bathroom after use, flush! any act of cleaning up after ones self, small as never placing used tissue in trash can, to dozens of half empty beverages stuffed in drawers etc)
  • Foot dragging, procrastination
  •  Lying
  • Intentional inefficiency  
  • The Silent Treatment
  • The 'poker face'
  • Undermining behaviors -going behind target's back  with complaints and accusations
  • Vengeful acts
Far from a list of petty annoyances what emerged was a systematic pattern of behavior. Behind all the innocent looks and bewildered shrugs were some angry, spiteful kids.
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     What made it worse, she said, was that these 'children' were now adults and their attitude had not changed. And no, being kind, caring and inclusive did not seem to improve the situation.  And Dad? Twisted firmly around their fingers. "And this was the everyday stuff. If I start on the holidays we'll be here all day."

    I nodded. "The Parent Trap Ploy. Obnoxious children engaging in escalating passive aggressive behavior."

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    Carin sighed. "If you look passive aggressive up in the dictionary you'll see a picture of my mother-in-law. She is the Queen of left-handed compliments. And every barbed comments is 'only a joke'."

     "Like Marie on 'Everybody Loves Raymond'?" Mary asked.

    "Worse," Carin promised. "And God forbid anyone upstage her."



    "Well one thing is sure. They probably are not changing," Mary said.

    Carin nodded. "Expecting them to change is unrealistic. They are who they are. Hoping for change is asking for disappointment."

    "So....my first step to having a better Christmas is accepting reality. Expect difficult people to act as they usually do. It is what it is. That way I am prepared for it."

    Mary said "Another thing that helped me was taking a step back and thinking about the roles family member plays. Who is the instigator, the drama queen, the pity junkie. I mean we all fall into roles sometimes."
    Carin raised her hand, "Martyr!"  We laughed.
    "Identify roles and objectively examine how the family interacts will help me see the big picture."
     "Once you can think of family more objectively think about why they can get to you.  What sore spot are they hitting that causes you to  react?"
      "Understanding what buttons of mine are being pushed will allow me to examine my emotional response. Getting help with those issues will make it easier to cope."
    "I reacted strongly to the 'secret society' behaviors because I really wanted to be accepted and have a close relationship with my steps," Mary said. "Their rejection hurt. It brought up a lot of old hurts." 
    "Own my own emotions. I can't control others, but I can control myself and my reactions. As the saying goes, just because someone cast the bait it doesn't mean I have to take it."
    "Exactly," Carin said. " Think how good it will feel to free yourself of the victim role. It takes practice. I try to limit contact, remain cordial, but not set myself up as a target. I have learned to just say, excuse me, and walk away."
    "I remind myself that there is something behind these behaviors," Mary took a sip of coffee. "For some reason this difficult person is acting out, or in, because of  some hurt or inadequacy in their life. It helps me have a kinder heart about the person while accepting my need to protect myself emotionally."

    Remember their behavior is more about them

    6 Ways to Help Reduce Holiday Stress 
     
    "I like your fishing analogy," said Carin. "Don't get hooked! If you do it's too easy to get reeled in!"
    We smiled as we stood and gathered our belongings.
     "Thanks guys. This good advice is my first step to building a better Christmas. "


      I'd love to hear your thoughts on dealing with difficult people people at the holidays. Just because we love them doesn't mean they can't drive us a little crazy.

    Thank you for visiting! 
    Susan

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