An amazing therapy session today. I feel empowered to handle some of the holiday stress now. She found my ruby slippers – ‘you’ve had the power all along dear’. Except when I click my slippers, I will be transported to a mental happy home.
So I explained all of my issues regarding holidays. We decided to tackle the gatherings at MIL’s house first, and scheduled 3 more sessions to work on the issues of my own family of origin’s parties.
So I told her I don’t enjoy these long days of family hoopla. She asked what I’ve already tried.
Well I said, I have 3 choices here.
- Go and plaster on my smile and pretend all is well
- Go and be authentic and stir up trouble as I speak my mind
- Don’t go at all
She says I have a 4th choice. Something I never considered.
4. Go and be authentic to myself
COPING SKILL 1 – IMAGINE
At first I didn’t understand. She says I am to use my amazing inner world to supplement my outer one. Like I do in business meetings ALL OF THE TIME. I was still confused. I said what about being mindful? She said yes I want you to be mindful, be aware of your stress level, and when it approaches the red zone, maybe even when it is orange or yellow, I am to mentally back out of the situation and imagination a different ending.
I’m thinking Ally McBeal style.
So when anyone starts saying something negative, attacking, selfish, snobby, etc – I will picture them as hippies dancing through a field of flowers and delivering fresh baked goodies to the homeless. Or their big egos inflating their heads like balloons. Or them holding the coveted glowing iphone as angels sing and circle.
I don’t wish to force my values on anyone, and I don’t enjoy judging these people that I should accept as family. I have already tried the path of greatest resistance – I have already spoken up multiple times and they know my stance on these issues as well as I know theirs. So if they insist on speaking about politics, education, or how great the latest iphone is, I will not consider it my duty to scold them, and will instead IMAGINE the conversation taking a different route.
She said just make sure I don’t use it as an escape – it should only be a minute as needed to lighten my own mental mood. I do this when speaking to my boss, but had never considered doing this for my inlaws. I asked my therapist “Is this really healthy?” “Isn’t the same as pretending?” She said no. I will be true to my inner self and wisely choose which battles need fighting. Having the same argument is draining for me, and no net gain will ever be had. I’d be better off arguing my points to the rocks outside, at least then I’d have some fresh air to go along with the futility.
COPING SKILL 2 – Breathing Breaks
She said no one has to know I doing deep breathing and counting and feeling my belly rise and fall. I don’t even need to leave the room – which can actually cause more stress as people ‘search’ for me and ask if I’m ok when they find me sitting alone in the dark. A whole house full of extroverts – I’m alien to them. Sitting around the dinner table with one hand in my lap, it will be easy to focus on my breathing and keep my heart rate down and stress levels at bay without causing unnecessary alarm or drawing unwanted attention to myself.
COPING SKILL 3 – DIVERSIONS
She said to bring something to do. Busy people are usually left alone. She suggested my camera. If they see me out snapping pics they are less likely to worry or intrude on me. I actually did this last time, practicing my macro skills and playing with lighting – I took 50 shots of her blooming Christmas cactus, some very artsy, and some very standard. And then I share my favorites with them, so my antisocial break turns into a positive social later. win-win. She also suggested I take my sketch pad and some pencils, or some games or crafts to play with the kids.
COPING SKILL 4 – BOUNDARIES
I have already set the boundary that we will not spend the night at MIL’s on these occasions. I am trying to also limit how long we spend there – does it need to be 8-10 hours? If so, I need to be afforded extra quiet time before and after the visit to prepare and recover. Some of this is simply giving myself permission for this, not any changes that need to happen other than my own inner critic allowing me to be tired and being gentle with myself.
COPING SKILL 5 – CHANGE IT UP
If yz always seem to happen after x – try starting with Q! If MIL always complains about having to make all of the food, but refuses to let anyone in her kitchen to help – tell her ahead of time we’d really like to bring some special dishes this year. Make them in our own kitchen, with whatever bowl or spoon we choose, and bring it along to lighten her load. If certain conversation always lead to arguments, throw out new topics and see what happens – Say did you know anglerfish has bioluminescent bacteria residing in side of them to make the glowy bobber? I’m pretty sure no one will have a strong or caustic opinion about that. Always in trouble for showing up late? Go for breakfast this year. Tradition is one thing – but a rut is a rut.
So to sum this up – she does not feel there is any danger or harm in exhausting myself at MIL’s house as long as I take care of myself too. She thinks that it would be harmful to avoid it, both for my own peace of mind and guilt, feeling of belonging – as well as for my kids. She said if nothing else, go and be a part of this wild group a few times a year to model how to do it for my kids. Grumble grumble yes I thought she would say that. pout. FINE.
Actually I am looking forward to trying out my new skills and seeing if I can carve out an introverted niche in the extroverted wild kingdom. Use my powers for good! Let this family get to know me, and love me. Understand I am actually loved and missed if not there. Understand that strong personalities zap my energy, but not my soul. No dangers here, turn off the red alert.