Category Archives: Friendship

$86,400 ~ A Day

Part 3 of 5 “Emotions 101.” Today we explore  ~

You get $86,400 a day and you’re “Fine?” How about Astounded, Excited or Triumphant

My friend Byron in Boise, Idaho (USA) told me of a way I can access $86,400 a day, for life. He sent me this gift right as I was writing this post about how to inspire folks to live a little. To discover inner states beyond “OK” and “Fine.” To be motivated to wake up and notice (and maybe sniff) the roses. He told me how I can access this gift today, even in the face of another ordinary, cereal-and-toast, off-to-work, home-again-too-late, TV-and-dinner-and-bed sort of day.

What a gift!  So, I thought I’d share it with you.

It’s something to think about.

Imagine you have won the following prize in a contest:

Each morning your bank deposits $86,400.00 in your private account for your personal use. However, this prize has rules, just as any game has certain rules.

  • Rule #1  ~  Everything you didn’t spend during each day would be taken away. You may not simply transfer money into some other account. You may only spend it. Each morning upon awakening, the bank opens your account with another $86,400.00 for that day.
  • Rule #2  ~  The bank can end the game without warning. At any time it can say, “Game over!” It can close the account and you will not receive a new one.

How would you feel?

OK?”

Fine?”

Or maybe astonished at your luck; relieved at no-more-money-worries; eager to get out and spend; excited about the possibilities; anxious that the game may end without you fully participating; elated at the wanton generosity; longing to make things better for someone else; deeply compassionate for the wider world which now, perhaps, you can help.

Not sure you can find enough good words to describe your inner bliss? Click here ~  Parrott Emotions Tree 2001 ~ for a fabulous list of emotions you can easily sort through.

Wow – what a high!

You can imagine feeling so alive, so vibrant, so present as you take care of yourself, your family and those around you. You’d spend every cent every day since you couldn’t save it. You’d be quivering with the challenge and responsibility for how to make your daily investments of dollars.

What if I told you this was not a game, but reality.

To access your prize, just substitute “Time” for “Dollars”.

Each morning you wake up to another 86,400 seconds as a gift of life.

At the end of the day any unspent seconds will not be credited back to you. You’ll have the memories for how you invested your seconds yesterday. You’ll have the excitement of a whole new 86,400 coming tomorrow – you hope. But the living of these seconds – that’s your own wild and juicy ride.

What to do?

Notice you’re alive! Notice what words you’d use to describe how you feel in these seconds of alive. Are they variations on themes of love, joy, gratitude and surprise? If so, great. Get specific about how great you feel, pay attention to what helps get you to those states, and tomorrow – when you have your next 86,400 second installment – do these things some more.

Start spending!

PS: If you feel bad in the face of your 86,400 seconds see “I Feel So Bad”.

Tomorrow:    “I feel like you should…”  If this is how you’ve been talking about your feelings, it’s time to learn how to be more honest and effective.

 

“I Feel So Bad!”

Part 2 of 5 “Emotions 101.” Today we explore  ~

“Of course I numb, distract, dismiss or bury my feelings when I feel so bad.  Got any better ideas?”

Yes, I do actually.

Think about what you’d do if you decided your stomach-ache was a medical, not emotional, condition. You’d go to the doctor and describe each symptom as accurately as possible:  “Well doc, it feels like this knife stabbing me, but not continuously. It started over here see, above the belly button.  Now it’s down here, lower right. Boy it gets worse when I sneeze, and driving over here didn’t help any.”  And so on.

The more timely and accurate your description of the pain, the more timely and accurate the diagnosis; in this case, possible appendicitis. So, how do we talk about emotions like this?  On a continuum between Woody Allen’s overindulgence and John Wayne’s heroic suppression is a just-right spot where feelings can be discussed in a timely and accurate way.

“Sure!” you scoff, “Like I’m ever going to want to talk about how bad I feel.”

Here are four (possibly life-saving) reasons to reconsider ~

  • NAMING ~ Since I’m a novice sailor I’ll use a sailboat analogy. I’m at the “sad, mad, glad” vocabulary stage vis-à-vis sailing. I get in a boat and see ropes and sails. Captain Helen comes aboard and distinguishes the main sheet, jib sheet, halyard and boom vang for “ropes”. She sees a main sail, jib and spinnaker for “sails.”  Having a precise vocabulary for all the distinct parts of a sailboat allows Helen to describe quickly and accurately what needs attention and when. “Pull that rope Gemma!” will get us capsized. “Haul in the main!” might result in a nice tack. Building your vocabulary is Step #1 toward emotional (and nautical) mastery.

(Click below for Parrott’s 176 Emotions sorted into 6 main categories)

Parrott’s Emotions Tree 2001

  • CLAIMING ~ Once you can distinguish (for example) annoyance, torment and envy from the general feeling of angry you get to claim them. You are entitled to your feelings! Even the ugly ones. Especially the ugly ones! Too often we screech to a halt here and think “Oh no! It’s not nice to feel tormented by Kindergarten violinists and note a huge surge of envy for the art teacher whose room is blissfully quiet.” But if this is what you feel, claim your experience. It’s like saying “Oh, better not mention the lump to the doctor. Lumps aren’t nice.” Tell her for heaven’s sake!
  • DIAGNOSINGAngry is highly imprecise. Makes it hard to know what’s wrong. But sit with annoyance, torment and envy for a while and you’ll have a much more accurate picture of your inner state. This violin class is not working for you; you are annoyed – tortured even – by the noise, and beginning to recognize you need a change. Older students? Teach a different subject? So, with diagnosis comes…
  • Treatment TRANSFORMATION ~ Take one feeling at a time and ask yourself “I feel annoyed with this violin class. What would I rather feel? What’s the opposite of annoyed? Gratified? Pleased? Yes, I want to feel pleased with my day’s work, so what do I need?”  Now you are off down the rabbit hole of transforming your inner state into one you’d much rather experience. (See Blog How to use feelings to point to needs)

Tomorrow:   “I’m fine.” Great, so is my wine! Aren’t you enthralled, excited or triumphant? Let’s liven up your happy place.

Don’t Die Without . . .

Expressing Your True Feelings

 

In Bronnie Ware’s heartfelt blog http://www.inspirationandchai.com/Regrets-of-the-Dying.html she notes that the five most common regrets of those near death are ~

  • I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.
  • I wish I didn’t work so hard.
  • I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings.
  • I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.
  • I wish that I had let myself be happier.

 

How about that!

Feelings – those things I’m constantly encouraging us to become more familiar with and fluent in – rank as the number 3 most devastating loss when not expressed.

Here is what Bronnie wrote:

Many people suppressed their feelings in order to keep peace with others. As a result, they settled for a mediocre existence and never became who they were truly capable of becoming. Many developed illnesses relating to the bitterness and resentment they carried as a result.

We cannot control the reactions of others. However, although people may initially react when you change the way you are by speaking honestly, in the end it raises the relationship to a whole new and healthier level. Either that or it releases the unhealthy relationship from your life. Either way, you win.

What does it take to express your feelings? If you are not sure, join me for Emotions 101,  a five-part fun series running 4th – 8th March 2013. Topics include ~

1. Is that a feeling, or a stomach ache? Don’t laugh – it can be hard to tell sometimes. Learn how to recognize your emotions. (Blog on 4th March  2013);

2. Sad? Mad? How about Lonely, Wistful, Incensed, Ashamed? Dump the kindergarten terms for your complex internal maelstrom.  (Blog on 5th March 2013);

3. “I’m fine.” Great, so is my wine! Aren’t you Enchanted, Elated or Thrilled?  Let’s liven up your Happy place. (Blog on 6th March 2013);

4. “I feel like you should…”If this is how you’ve been talking about your feelings, it’s time to learn how to be more honest and effective. (Blog on 7th March 2013);

5. “No you don’t!” If this is how you respond when someone shares their feelings, come learn how to listen so people will open up to you. (Blog on 8th March 2013).

So – whether you’re Oscar Wilde ~

I don’t want to be at the mercy of my emotions. I want to use them, to enjoy them, and to dominate them. ― Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray

or Elizabeth Gilbert ~

“Your emotions are the slaves to your thoughts, and you are the slave to your emotions.”
Elizabeth Gilbert, Eat, Pray, Love: One Woman’s Search for Everything Across Italy, India and Indonesia

you’ll find something of interest. See you for Emotions 101,  4th – 8th March 2013.

 

 

 

 
 

 

Top 10 Emotional Needs

Why do we couple-up?

According to Dr. Harley of MarriageBuilders.com (from whom I have adapted these descriptions of needs) couples cite the 10 emotional needs listed below as most important to them. These are what they want out of their primary love relationship. For fun, rank order these with #1 (most important to you) to #10 (least important to you), and compare notes with your lover. You might each learn a thing or two.

_____ AFFECTION  (you have a consistent and willing place in your partner’s arms and heart for touch, hugs and snuggles)

_____ SEXUAL FULFILLMENT  (you enjoy making love and find your sexual relationship is allowed both full expression and evolution).

_____ RECREATIONAL COMPANIONSHIP (you enjoy spending most of your free time together and find that certain activities are enhanced by sharing them with your partner.)

_____ INTIMATE CONVERSATION (your partner is your go-to person for what is on your mind. You find it easy to open up to your partner because he or she listens and understands you in a way that feels satisfying and unique.)

_____ HONESTY AND OPENNESS (you trust one another to share what is important and not to withhold secrets that might be hurtful.)

_____ PHYSICAL ATTRACTIVENESS (you are proud to be with your partner, you like showing him or her off to your friends, you are happy to have “caught” such a person!)

_____ DOMESTIC SUPPORT (you and your partner have figured out how to run a home together. You know what your areas of strength and weakness are and you both manage to navigate these successfully so your home space meets both your needs.)

_____ FINANCIAL SUPPORT (you and your partner can discuss how the income you need is brought in. You can agree as to how each of you contributes, how much, how often and what to do when you need to renegotiate these needs.)

_____ FAMILY COMMITMENT (you and your partner have a similar appetite for sharing your lives with extended family. You can manage your in-laws with consideration and compassion and can put your marriage ahead of pressure from outside.)

_____ ADMIRATION (your partner is proud of who you are, what you accomplish, how you accomplish things and tells you this quite often).

It’s pretty common to find we try to fulfill the needs we want for our partner – assuming they want the same thing. So, if you’ve not been connecting as well with your sweetie lately – compare notes.  If your #1 is Intimate Conversation and your partner’s #1 is Recreational Companionship, it might explain why the fishing trips are so fraught. You want to use this time away for some D & M’s (deep and meaningfuls) whilst your partner just hopes you’ll both pursue fish.

Watch this space for EMOTIONS  101 – a five-part series, starting on 4 March 2013, on how to recognize, talk about, express and use your emotions effectively.

Dating Again, Post Divorce

OK friends, last in a 5 part series on how to be a friend when your friends have affairs, separate and divorce.  This one’s about what to do when they are ready to get back on the dating scene.

Part 5 of 5  HOW TO HELP WHEN ~ They Are Dating Again

1. Invite your single friends over. Yes, you miss the good old times when you and your sweetie hung out with your friend and his or her “ex.” However, this can be a refreshing shift for your friendship. After divorce, most people shake loose some old behaviours and beliefs: Who is this person now? Invite your newly single friends over with other couples. It’s good for them to cross that hurdle of “odd one out amongst couples ” with someone they know and trust.  When possible, try to connect with both sides more or less evenly. Maybe play sports with one, but have dinners with the other. It’s all good.

2. Be careful with the matchmaking already. Sure it’s tempting! Especially if you’ve watched the death of your friends’ love over the past years and have longed for their happiness. 2 good reasons to slow this down:

  1. If your friends are to avoid a rebound disaster, they’ll need time to figure out who they are now, post divorce. Rather than urging more coupling, try championing some single time. Some “getting to love and enjoy my own company” time. This might be a long overdue developmental stage for your friend – support it!
  2. If you are friends to both, think how it will seem to the friend whom you do not “fix up” with a match? What’s she then – chopped liver?

3. Ask if and how your friends want your “feedback.” Talk to your friend about what they want next. Some self-discovery single time? Great – support that. Some dating-as-self-discovery? Great – support that too. But, have a conversation with your friend about what to do if you see warning signs. What if you don’t like the new friend, after genuinely trying? What if you see behaviors that look dangerous to you? Maybe your friend’s new partner strikes you as controlling, vindictive, or insincere? If your friend asks for your honest opinion, clarify some ground rules. Having an upfront conversation increases the odds these tough chats later will be possible and useful.

4. Watch and Learn – my friend. You may be surprised at your feelings when your divorced friend finally falls in love again with someone wonderful, and their romance, wedding, new home and fresh start make your 15+ year relationship seem dowdy and stale. Even the horror off sharing kids with the “ex” now has a bright side; alternating kid-free weekends! If you feel more jealousy than relief at all this newness, it’s time to clean up your own house.  What do you and your partner need to stay new, alive and in love?

Helping Kids through Divorce

How friends and relations react in the face of a couple’s troubles can make a huge difference, often for the worse.  I am dedicating this week’s blog space to addressing the five types of couple distress I see most regularly, with tips for how family and friends can help, not harm, the hurting couple.

Part 4 of 5  HOW TO HELP WHEN ~ The Divorced Couple has Kids

1. Never badmouth either parent in front of the children. Children know (even if adopted) they’re a combination of both parents. It’s never OK to say anything negative about either parent. If a child tells you they are “mad at dad” by all means acknowledge “Boy, right now you’re so mad at dad you could scream!”  But avoid character assignation. If you hear “mum’s a looser – if she’d just stop drinking dad wouldn’t have left,”  challenge this gently. “Your mum’s behaved badly, but she’s not a bad person.” Good people can make bad choices. This is key or the child might grow up thinking they too have some ingrained character flaw “just like mum or dad.”

2. Cut the kids some slack.  When your parents split, your home’s sold, you divide your time and stuff between mum’s house & dad’s house, your friends are gossiping, family finances suffer, you have to meet a parent’s new partner, and-life-as-you-once-knew-it is forever changed, it can be hard to find comfort. Counselling might be good. But anyone can help by taking the child out, listening, empathizing and offering simple kindness. A regular zoo date; movie night and sleep over at your house; an introduction to something new – a sport or art or book – shows you care.

3. Include them in your family traditions. “It takes a village” yea, yea, but it really helps! If your divorced friends are not up for the Easter egg hunt, pumpkin carving, tree cutting, carol singing, Thanksgiving feast, bake sale, Waitangi Day races, cabin-on-the-lake trip for a while, include your friends’ kids with your own. As the child of an unhappy marriage, I longed for these immersions into happy family gatherings and model my own parenting on the many aunts and friends who included me along the way.

4. Be an advocate for the children.  In a recent study of young adults from divorced families, many of those surveyed identified loss of control over their lives as very upsetting. Few kids said their parents had talked with them about the divorce and only 5% had the chance to ask questions. Help your friends put their love of the children ahead of their hate for the “ex”.  Just because the parenting plan says Mum’s house on Thursdays, but there’s a Father’s Day tea – what does the child need and want today? Might it be OK to listen more to the children?

Your Friend’s Divorce

How friends and relations react in the face of a couple’s troubles can make a huge difference, often for the worse.  I am dedicating this week’s blog space to addressing the five types of couple distress I see most regularly, with tips for how family and friends can help, not harm, the hurting couple

Part 3 of 5 HOW TO HELP WHEN ~ They Divorce

1. Don’t be afraid to mess up. There are no rules for how to divorce with élan. No common divorce rituals, rites of passage, no playbook for those of us left with loyalty issues and sore hearts for our friends’ broken love.  It’s understandable to be a bit nervous around divorce – it’s a death and there’ll be grief and loss. Do your best to keep the lines of communication open with your friends. This is particularly important if there are children (see Post 4).  But in any case stay connected, however imperfectly, so your friends know they are not alone.

2. Don’t rush back to “normal.” Just because the death of a marriage doesn’t end with a funeral doesn’t mean your divorcing friends are not in a state of grief and loss.  Most likely the divorced couple will have lost their home, savings, shared past, future hopes, family unit, in-laws, photo albums, lifestyle, trust in the permanency of love, and often a huge helping of self-respect. It takes time to come back from all this. The divorced partners are now off on separate journeys of recovery and it won’t help to rush them. It may take years before your friend becomes the old familiar playful, funny, unselfish character you once knew. Allow your friendship to evolve – as it will.

3. Do remind them of “normal.” Sometimes the last thing your friend wants is to discuss the divorce. Great – provide them with the distractions they seek. This is a good time for you to complain, seek their advice, ask for their help, take up Hot Yoga, start a diet, and generally show them that life is big and wide and has a place for them even when they’re not quite ready to engage 100%.

4. Sort out your own feelings. Remember, this is not your divorce. While it might seem as though your friend/relative wants you to dislike (hate?) their ex as much as he or she does, you may not.  It might be this “ex” is the mother or father of your grandchildren; how can you hate them? It might be you have loved this person and are sad to be losing them from the family or friendship circle. How you negotiate your relationship with someone who is divorcing out of your community is up to you.  You can stay in touch and love them as before. You may just have to do this separately for a while.

Your Friend’s Separation

How friends and relations react in the face of a couple’s troubles makes a huge difference, often for the worse.  I am dedicating this week’s blog space to addressing the five types of couple distress I see most regularly, with tips for how family and friends can help, not harm, the hurting couple

Part 2 of 5  HOW TO HELP WHEN ~ They Separate

1. Be a neutral-zone. Even if you feel strongly in favour of one partner over the other it’s not helpful to act this out as prosecutor or defense. Just listen and try to be supportive by telling your friend how sorry you are that he or she is having this experience.  Don’t badmouth one person to the other – not only is it unhelpful, but there’s always the chance they might get back together again. Don’t ever volunteer to be the “go-between.”  While it might seem neutral, this perpetuates dreadful behaviour and fosters jealousy.  If the separated partners want to talk, they can do so directly, or in therapy.

2. Offer tangible, practical help. If your friends are separating, one, other or both of them will be living with less stuff. Does someone need bedding, kitchen ware, extension cords or a lamp?  If your friend used to rely on his or her spouse to help with dry cleaning, car troubles, elderly parents or the pets, can you step in instead?  Sleuth out which day or night is toughest on your friend and show up with dinner. Be willing to talk about anything, e.g,(“Can I survive on this budget?” or “Shall I shave my head, drop 10 kg, and  re-do my wardrobe?” Listen. Ask questions. See if you can get them laughing at their predicament – occasionally.

3. Stay alert for severe reactions. Whatever the cause of a separation, this is a massively unstable time. Feelings and behaviour will be all over the map and you may be frightened by your friends’ oscillating mood swings. Just show up. Love your friend unconditionally even if they are making poor choices. If you suspect your friend is severely depressed be willing to discuss suicidal thoughts. If she / he has a concrete plan (I’ll take an overdose) and has the means for completing this plan (I’ve been hoarding my pills for two years and have more than enough) ask  “On a scale of 1 – 10 with 10 being you don’t want to make it through the night, where are you?” If your friend has the means to carry out a suicide and is over a 3 or 4, get professional help.

4. Get your friend helping others. A pity-party is a lonely affair. If your friend is wallowing, get them thinking of someone else. You need them to walk your dog; the neighbour needs house-plants watered; animal rescue needs someone to love the kittens. Obviously, if there are children involved, this will look very different.  See Part 4.

Your Friend’s Affair

While the number of couples getting divorced (or ending their civil or de facto unions) is down a bit in New Zealand from over 12 per 1000 married couples in the late 1990s to below 9.8 per 1000 married couples in 2011,  most of us are touched at some point by the divorce, separation or infidelity of a friend or relative.

How friends and relations react when a couple is in crisis makes a huge difference, often for the worse.  I am dedicating this week’s blog space to addressing the five types of couple distress I see most regularly, with tips for how family and friends can help, not harm, the hurting couple

Part 1 of 5 HOW TO HELP WHEN ~ An Affair Strikes

While it can make a difference to how you feel about your friend if you know whether they are the unfaithful or the hurt partner in an affair, the following tips apply to both scenarios.

  1. Resist the urge to judge. Not all affairs are all bad. As I tell couples who come to me, affairs can be the death knell of a relationship, or the wake up call. When affairs are first discovered it is hard to know which way things will go and certainly there are two sides to every story. If you, as a dear friend or relative, sit in vocal judgment you may well interfere with the genuine insight, growth and healing that can come out of an affair.
  2. Be their friend, not their shrink . By all means be a good friend and listen, empathise, ask clarifying questions and be non-judgmentally supportive, but seeing your friend through the aftermath of an affair – no matter what role your friend played – goes over and above the bounds of friendship.  Hug them, cry with them, then help them find a good professional – you’ll both be glad of it in the end.
  3. Don’t succumb to gossip.  Betraying trust and trafficking in endless opinions about what’s happening, who’s right, who’s wrong and what “should” be done, does not help anyone.  Let your friends know you trust the couple is getting help and change the conversation by discussing ways to support both of them.
  4. Extend invitations to your friend… repeatedly. Often a therapist will suggest the couple touched by an affair take some time apart. This does not indicate divorce any more than going to bed with the flu indicates death, so don’t treat your friends as though they were highly contagious.  It can be a lifeline to know that friends are still reaching out, still care, and are willing to choose human decency over judgmental ostracism. Even if your friend turns you down repeatedly, keep asking. Whether you invite him or her for dinner next week or a cup of tea right now, even if the answer is “No thanks!”  they will see you care.

Help For The Holidays

As a Relationship Therapist I’ve noticed that my phone gets busy in December. And, over time, I’ve noticed there are three quite different sorts of cries for help: see if one of these fits for you:

1.         The “Into Christmas” Group   

You more or less like the holidays. You go along – whether with wholehearted enthusiasm or because you feel it is the right thing to do for the kids – and end up buying gifts, decorating the house, fixing large meals, visiting family, entertaining the neighbours, celebrating in your place of worship, and making merry as you go.

The price of all this is a maxed-out credit card, too much on your plate (literally and figuratively), family fights, hangovers, disappointment and enormous stress occasionally off-set by wisps of delight and fleeting moments of searing joy.

What you could use right now might be a couple of ways to maximize the joy and minimize the stress. Keep reading!

2.         The normally “Into Christmas Group” Who Can’t Celebrate This Year

Whilst you hold the vision of a loving and happy holiday season, there has been too much sadness this year so nothing is the same. Maybe you’ve lost a loved one; recently divorced; been diagnosed with an illness; had an accident; lost your job; hit bottom as an alcoholic or any number of things that can come up in life to throw you off course.

Whilst all around there seems to be joy and delight, for you there is just this huge gulf between what you want life to be like and how it really is. It is all the harder to be crying alone when everyone else is making merry.

What you could use right now is a high level course in radical self-care. Keep reading!

3.         The “It’s Just Not My Holiday” Group

For any number of highly legitimate (and possibly painful) reasons, this is THE toughest time of year for you.

As you observe the rising crescendo of jolly behaviour all around, and as the media and advertisers encourage ever more flamboyant spending opportunities, you find yourself wanting to move to an alternative parallel universe in December.

Maybe what you could use right now is some peace and quiet, and the understanding and permission to live this month according to your own beat. Maybe you want to party. Maybe you want to be silent. Maybe you want to take off and hide. Maybe you don’t want to wish anyone Happy Anything. Maybe you want to go on a 3-day organizing rampage. Keep on reading!

3 Ideas for the “Into Christmas” Group

1.         Know what you want

All this holiday hoopla happens because you, and those around you, are seeking to re-create a feeling. What is that feeling? Connection? Magic? Kindness? Awe? Tradition? Faith renewed? Quite often however, amidst all the busyness, the season comes and goes and you realize  you never made time for the one thing you were really looking forward to.

To make sure this does not happen, complete the following sentence:

“This Christmas will have been absolutely wonderful for me if _________ .”

Think about your answer, and then ask the people you live with what they would say.

For me a wonderful holiday season includes reading Truman Capote’s A Christmas Memory aloud with the family. My husband likes to make sure we cut our own Christmas tree – normally in deep snow, but in the Auckland rain is fine too. For my son it’s our Christmas morning routine of opening gifts from Santa one at a time and enjoying each gift with rounds of “what can it be?” followed by loads of improbable guesses. For my daughter it’s squeezing her small dog once more into the dreadful stripy knitted  elf costume she gave the poor pup a while back, and then having her portrait taken with said small dog.

When you identify, and share with those around you, the one thing you absolutely know you want to have happen this year there are two great benefits:

a) You’ll make these “Must dos” a priority, &

b) As you make sure you do the few things that  bring each of you the deepest joy you will know – even if things turn to custard and all is not perfect (yet again)  – that it was a wonderful holiday season after all!

2.         Lighten up!

Yes it’s a lovely idea that everyone will drink in moderation, give and receive great gifts, stay friendly, appreciate the beautiful food and more or less seem to be having a good time – but hey – if this is not what’s happening, release your need for control and perfection. Accepting what IS can be far more memorable and liberating than having a tantrum or voicing your disapproval. If things go seriously awry the best approach is a post holiday de-brief where, if need be, you set things up differently for next year.

3.         Listen more than you speak

For many, when the extended clan gathers it is pandemonium. Everyone has a tale, a funny story, a grievance, a whine. Most everyone is out to be heard. However, if you’re interested in having a more meaningful holiday, try listening. Ask questions of your family members. How has their year been? What were the highlights? What are they grateful for? How might they make some needed changes in 2013? If you consider this an opportunity to get closer to one or two of your family or friends, it’s a gift you’ll never forget.

3 Ideas for the normally “Into Christmas Group” Who Can’t Celebrate This Year

No getting around it – this will be a tough year. The good news is, this pain will pass. The bad news is, it will be with you for this holiday cycle. Since the culture at large will not know of your suffering, the only recourse you have is to take matters into your own hands and be extra kind to yourself.

1.         Ramp down your expectations

Knowing that you’ll be sad, unwell, fragile in your sobriety, lonely or not yourself for a myriad of other reasons, tell yourself it is OK not to embrace the holidays this year. It is OK for you to turn down parties; opt out of gift giving; skip a tradition. The key is to check in with yourself and ask, event by event, “Will this bring me happiness and relief?”

Only take part in things that receive a clear “Yes!”

2.         Ask what you need this year

Depending upon what is dampening your joy, your needs this year will be different. If you are sick – maybe you need to be around people who give you energy rather than those who drain you. If you are divorced maybe it would help to be with friends who have come through divorce in a way you respect. If you have lost a loved one, only you’ll know if it would be more helpful to surround yourself with others who are missing this person, or if you’d be better off amongst complete strangers in an entirely new setting. In other words, pay attention to your own process and do your best to make sure you take care of you. It is doubtful others will do such a good job!

3.         Help those who are worse off than you

The best remedy for self-pity or sadness is to look up and notice others who might be worse off. To whatever extent it is possible – can you find a way to help someone who is suffering in a similar way? Someone else who is newly sober, newly bereaved, newly alone, newly diagnosed?  In reaching out with kindness and care to this other person you will find your own burden is lifted.

3  Ideas for the “It’s Just Not My Holiday” Group

If the alternative parallel universe worm-hole opened but you missed it, there are still things you can do to stay centered as those around you become ever more frenzied.

1.         Create your own ritual

If you aren’t into celebrating, December 24, 25 and 26 can be tough: Most stores are closed, there’s nothing great on TV and everywhere you go there are reminders of what a wonderful time other people seem to be having.  So – plan for your own version of wonderful and make these 3 days your annual snooker / fishing / fasting / yoga retreat / movie marathon  and have at them with relish.

2.         Volunteer

Since most establishments make December 24, 25 and 26 mandatory days off work, why not use them for some great Karmic return and volunteer for a cause you love? If you plan ahead there will be heaps of things you could invest 3 days of uninterrupted time into. If you prefer spur-of-the-moment, then check on-line for shelters, soup kitchens, senior centers, animal shelters or refugee agencies – they are always in need of a few good men (and women).

3.         Organize the Year’s End

How often in the course of a year do you have three days with   nothing on your agenda? How lucky you are NOT to be part of the frantic shopping, gifting, feasting and celebrating crowds. For you these 3 days are a total gift. No work. Minimal distractions. You can get all those end-of-year chores behind you: sort out your taxes, go through old files, clip articles from the pile of old magazines, re-think your subscriptions, clean out drawers, put up next year’s calendar, do some long-range goal-setting, plan your next vacation. What a gift!

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Whatever happens for you this December, the bottom line is this:

You always have a choice in how you respond to reality.

Live consciously,

Choose carefully.

Enjoy!