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On the Road to Thankful

“Are there holiday plans you make every year, forgetting that they only cause you suffering and pain?”

Think back to how your plans last year really turned out …

  • That road trip/vacation with your kids, where everyone bickered and was unhappy?
  • That night you brought up an issue you had with your spouse’s family?
  • That second or third bottle of wine you opened over Thanksgiving or Christmas lunch or dinner.
  • Bringing your extended family together only to rekindle past grievances.

This year more than others, political tension is likely to make your Thanksgiving & Christmas plans go astray.

I will share an exercise with you in a moment that might help avoid a few common holiday pitfalls. But first, for you to understand why this exercise is so important, I need to explain a little about what I call our ‘two brains’.

Keeping the peace in our families is not a simple problem right? So be prepared to do a little homework if you want to be a skilled family manager!

First you need to know that emotions and problem solving often work at odds with each other . . .

These two areas of our brains tend to be active at different times (when one ‘switches on’ the other will ‘switch off’) and each sees the world very differently.

One symptom of this is that humans tend to be very bad at predicting how things we plan are likely to make us feel. Scientists refer to this as our brains being ‘faulty simulators’.

To solve this I like to think of our 2 brains as the Tortoise and the Hare:

Your Tortoise Brain: (pre frontal upper cortex) is better with social skills and logic and is prone to be cautious and not ‘over react’. It is a better problem solver (and to help you remember the top of your head is tortoise shaped!). Your tortoise brain however is not so good at sensing danger or disrespect and is terrible at knowing how things are likely to make you feel.

Your Hare Brain: (amygdala) Thinks much faster and tends to be more intuitive. It knows a lot about you and is very good at sensing opportunity and danger but can be highly reactive and cause you to say and do things you might regret later (or leave you scared and with nothing to say when you really should have spoken up).

  • Do you have relatives that ‘get the better of you’ when they make condescending or belittling comments in front of others?
  • Do you disagree with the politics or religious beliefs of some members of your family and often end up in arguments and fights?
  • Are there members of your family who put you down to make themselves feel superior?
  • Are there some members of your family that are hyper critical, over sensitive or defensive?

The mistake we often make is thinking that our emotional reaction to these people and situations in the past was the whole problem.

We tell ourselves that we shouldn’t have got so angry, or let their rude comments hurt us, and once the upset has passed we pretend that in future we won’t react like that again.

The Hare is always much faster than the tortoise however and so no matter how good your intentions are about ‘next time’ . . .  ‘next time’ the exact same thing will probably happen again.

Vowing that you will not let yourself react simply won’t work. You need to remember that the Tortoise (who knows better) will always be slower than the Hare!

So if you want to avoid over reacting to these situations this year, the only solution is to plan ahead. You need to take time out and practice better responses that you can have on hand, for situations I bet you can already guess are coming your way . . .  

because planning ahead is the only way that the Tortoise can possibly win the race ‘next time’.

There is no more important time for this than Thanksgiving & Christmas, a time when family conflict can all too easily break out.

Exercise 1

Stop now and think about the problems you have encountered at Thanksgiving & Christmas in the past that made you feel emotional and may be likely to crop up again this year:

  • Your in-laws ignoring your own or your children’s dietary requirements or putting you down as crazy or over protective because of what your family eat?
  • Family members that cut you off in conversation and ignore you?
  • Relatives who argue with everything you say?
  • A spouse who says bad things about you to their parents and family behind your back?
  • Children who openly defy you or express disrespect?
  • Food or drink that upsets your equilibrium?
  • People who make plans for you without consulting you or gaining your consent?
  • A relative that is very dogmatic and vocal about their unpopular political opinions.

None of these situations are easy to deal with – but pre planning is the only way you are going to have a hope of dealing with these situations gracefully when they arise.

Having pre-prepared scripts is the best strategy and each situation may need some brain storming until you come up with the best script. Asking a friend who is more socially skilled than you what script they would use can be a great strategy too.

For instance I heard a great one from my cousin when his sister asked his son Sam if he wanted a cookie at a family gathering. Putting on all the authority of a school master (which my cousin is not) he said, “All offers of food to Sam shall be run past me first.”

His sister then laughed and said something to challenge him like, “Well can I talk to Sam directly about anything?” and he said “Only if it doesn’t involve offers of food, drink or pets.” This got a laugh from everyone and stopped his (older) sister in her tracks.

The important thing with the script he delivered is that it was obviously planned and practiced ahead of time (my cousin is a radio producer) or else he would not have been ready for that moment when someone offered Sam a sweet snack.

And because he was ready, not only did he avoid feeling frustrated and weak when the inevitable happened, he also looked authoritative and confident in front of his son.

Sometimes words may not even be necessary and you may be able to avoid the confrontation all together by making a better plan than you had in place in the past.

Does your mother or father always embarrass you just as you all sit down to dinner? If so you might be ready to jump up and say you forgot something in the other room – just as you know they are about to draw unwanted attention your way.

Alcohol – if your family drinks and you don’t like the effect that alcohol has on you or someone else in your family when you are around them, there are a few good plans you can make . . .

  • Don’t announce that you are not drinking as this will probably make them nervous and start pushing you to drink (and them to behave even worse).
  • When asked if you want a drink, say you will have one a little later and then when you finally do get poured a drink, sit on the same drink for as long as you can without attracting attention.
  • Alternate alcoholic and non alcoholic drinks that you can open for everyone. In Australia there is a company called Robinvale Wines that makes attractive organic sparkling grape juice in fancy champagne bottles that are great to alternate with throughout the event.
  • If you suspect you might have a problem with alcohol because of an allergy (Steve and myself are allergic alcoholics) stick to clear spirits and something simple like lemonade as a mixer and measure the alcohol that goes in them so you don’t mix your drinks too strong. Some people try and avoid sugar in their drinks – but I find that having a couple of lightly sweetened drinks like lemonade makes my desire to drink too much go away.
  • If you crave alcohol try mixing a half teaspoon of L-glutamine in a glass of water and drink that before the event. This is a near miracle cure for alcohol cravings.
  • Decide before hand what time you are going home or going to bed that will avoid you having to deal with other family members when they are drunk, then stick to your plan.
  • Last but not least have scripts ready if you need them such as “I love you —– but I prefer talking to you when you are sober, so let’s leave this until I see you (and then give a time in the near future).”

In laws that put you down behind your back – This is very painful but also unbelievably common and so here are some ideas: 

  • What is the myth they claim about you? Don’t get hung up about it – but don’t feed that myth. If it is something you are ashamed of like drinking too much, talking too much or becoming upset too easily, decide for your own sake that you are going to do your best to work on that part of your character and not give their gossip fuel.
  • Remember what it is that you like about yourself and work on keeping your identity strong. Write a page of positive words about yourself with sentences beginning in “I am”.
  • If possible have some “fans” available to drop in if you need them. Can you get a friend who is always up beat to drop in or give you a call when you know things might get tough? This may be just the tactic you need to break your in-laws nasty spell.
  • Make sure you present yourself as well as you can. Choose something to wear that you feel very confident and comfortable in and take the time to set you hair (there are great tutorials for curler wet sets online) or do whatever it is that makes you feel at your best. Taking time for yourself to be prepared in this way is probably even more important than how clean your house is or the food you serve. Put taking care of yourself first.
  • Have comebacks ready for situations where you know they may be rude. A good comeback is never an ultimatum, bluff or threat.

I will be sharing some examples of how to handle put downs effectively tomorrow, but in the meantime, please join our online secret Facebook Group where together we will be helping each other with ideas right throughout the holiday season. Once you register below someone will be in touch within 24 hours to make sure you get your invite and help introduce you to the group.

Colourful speech bubbles

Our group is safe space, where you can discuss just about any problem you might be facing keeping the peace in your home. The group and I will help you with practical steps you can take (rather than just blaming someone or telling you to leave).

Once you have registered, I will be sending you some examples of how to handle put downs effectively and together (in the group) we can brainstorm ideas for comeback lines (more on these in part 2).

Please don’t hesitate to come say hello!

Facebook Secret Group Member’s Special . . .

(this special will be open for a short time only and includes downloads of our two best selling books)

Click Here:

Intro Member’s Special

(Includes 2 eBook downloads – plus 24/7 group support)

This Post Has 9 Comments
  1. Really great article and practical suggestions. One of the best I have other read. You should submit it to a mainstream magazine or online publication.

  2. Thank you for being there and kindly reminding me what I need to work on. I am slowly becoming mindful of reactions I have and the difference between my two brains. It is so true that outlooks change depending on which brain I am functioning in. Thanks for all this hard work you do. And thanks to Steve too.

    1. Hey Karen, Please still check out the link above. Most of the articles and posts included in My Master Class have comments sections at the bottom and so you can still interact with people through those.

  3. Thanks Kim, Steve,
    Your information opened my eyes to the NC marriage. I have also discovered other books, audio and video about narcissistic – codependant relationships and domestic abuse. Although my situation doesn’t seem as though it will change I have learned ways to not respond to threats, insults, and all the other verbal abuse.

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