By Julie Taylor
It’s the holiday season, which means many of us get the chance to spend time with family members we haven't seen in ages. Sounds good in theory, but if you’ve been holding on to old family grudges for years, the holidays can leave you feeling more stressed than blessed. (It’s not like you can avoid the person who hurt your feelings when he’s sitting right next to you at the dinner table asking you to pass the turkey...) So how do you move on emotionally from the family drama once and for all? Here, Darcy Lockman, Ph.D., a psychotherapist in private practice in New York City and the author of Brooklyn Zoo: The Education of a Psychotherapist, offers her top tips.
Good: Be Gracious, Not Fake
When you see the person who did you wrong, don’t pretend to be all nicey-nice. “Say hello and goodbye and speak kindly when spoken to,” recommends Lockman. “Skip over-the-top bear hugs and enthusiastic greetings. You feel what you feel, and playacting gratuitous niceness will not make your hurt and anger any easier to bear -- in fact, it could even have the opposite effect. Sometimes relationships feel bad. That is just the way it is.” There might be some awkwardness, but just try your best to have an open mind. Who knows? This brutally honest encounter just might eventually pave the way to peace.
Better: Put Yourself In Their Shoes
Trying to see things from the other person’s perspective can help you reach a place of understanding. Why do you think he or she behaved that way? “Your family member is not all bad, and you are not all good,” says Lockman. “People exist in lots of gray areas. Remind yourself of this.” Own up to your part in the drama while you’re at it. “While there are exceptions to every rule, you probably also played a part in whatever went down,” Lockman continues. Think about times that you've hurt other people, then reflect on those who have forgiven you. Are you ready to do the same?
Best: Choose Forgiveness
When it comes to a grudge, you can carry it or bury it -- and burying it (as in, putting it past you, not stuffing it) actually has health benefits. Forgiveness can lead to greater spiritual and psychological well-being; less anxiety, stress and hostility; lower blood pressure and fewer symptoms of depression. Letting go of the bitterness and resentment can make way for kindness, compassion and inner peace. It will also remove any power this person continues to have over your thoughts and emotions. “Adults need to have the capacity to see the world as a complicated place, where loving, kind people sometimes act hurtfully or less than ideally," says Lockman. "Being able to understand that the people we care about are complicated and messy -- as are we -- is a crucial life skill that allows you to move through life in a more comfortable way.”