I met a friend one morning in early December. We talked about Christmas coming up, and about how many people find it stressful. I asked him what, if anything, he finds challenging about it?
His response was that it’s spending time with relatives, particularly those he’s grown apart from. After I had empathized with his hopelessness and frustration, I asked him if he would like to hear some NVC tips? He agreed, so here’s what I said.
Starting about a week before, you could take some time for self-empathy. This means checking in with what you are feeling and needing right now. Imagine you’re going to your family Christmas and ask yourself, what are you longing for? What is your deepest heart wish? Acknowledge any needs that may not get met. Maybe there are things you anticipate you will miss, that you’re already mourning? Maybe you’ll miss depth and warmth of connection, for example?
However, it’s important to look at both sides. If you feel more connected with the needs you’re trying to meet, this could be a way to develop peace of mind and avoid being triggered into, “Oh god no! It’s the same every year!” You could connect with needs like belonging, for example. You could consider the contribution you make to your relatives’ lives by being there.
When you’re connected with the needs on both sides: those that won’t be met and those that you’re trying to meet, you could be ready to look at next steps. You could decide to go for a walk, spend some time on your own. Perhaps you don’t have to have every meal together. Discover what works for you to be with them, that is, the strategies to meet your need for depth; try to nourish yourself, connect with self-care. Maybe call an NVC buddy and say “Hey, I’m really upset at the moment and it’s horrible to be here! Can you listen for a while?” It’s often difficult for family members to see you as you really are. But a buddy can support you, see or hear how painful it is to play a character you aren’t.
My friend said that now he felt hopeful that he could keep the initiative and care for himself, whilst taking consideration of other people’s needs, “But I kind of feel obliged to buy presents for the sake of formality”.
I said, so we assume there are expectations, and that if we don’t fulfil these expectations there will be conflict. At the same time, we feel uncomfortable about going along with this. Are you longing for the present to be authentic? And do you also want freedom of choice, and ease? Could you imagine asking your relative, “Is there a way we can do it differently this year?”
Try to empathize with them: what need does the exchange of gifts represent? Perhaps it demonstrates a level of care, that we are thinking about each other? What makes it difficult for the other person to see that without the exchange of a gift? Try to understand what’s important for your relative: it doesn’t mean you have to agree that this is the best way to go about meeting that need, just acknowledge it as important for them.
Finally, maybe there is something you feel grateful for? Connecting with that we can change our perspective a little bit, so we don’t only see what’s not working. It can help to find inner peace.