December 18, 2016
Part three of my Holiday Season Series just must address the dreaded “obligations”….
Oh, obligations. I have to say, I personally like to buck the system when it comes to obligations. I do the best I can to not do things just because I feel as sense of obligation, rather opting to politely decline …or better yet, offer an alternative suggestion that may work for all people involved. I do get that this is not always possible, especially for those with big families and lots of traditions! So, let us talk about ways to navigate the obligations of this time of year…
Let’s start with Saying No. I probably teach my clients the skill of Saying No more then any other coping skill (as I started to mention in my previous blog about Not Enough Time!).
My best advice on Saying No with minimal resistance or fight from the person you are turning down, is to first approach with empathy, and then offer a new alternative, A.K.A my newly coined, “Side and Glide” approach (yes, that may be a new Liz Varney Trademarked concept)!
Side and Glide was first referenced in my earlier blog post: Go With, Not Against! The whole idea is to start with empathy (so you are siding with the person), and then once you are aligned together, start to glide toward a new option. As we have already discussed, responding to a “Yes!” with a “No!” only creates opposition and resistance which we do not want in our lives! Side and Glide allows you to still have a voice while skillfully navigating a situation which may cause potential conflict.
A Side and Glide approach for this time of year may sound something like:
“I would absolutely love to come, you always put so much into your Christmas Eve parties .. AND ….my family has been run so ragged with plans this year, so we are excited to spend the evening at home, quietly with ourselves… perhaps we may find a time to meet up after the busyness of the holidays instead?”
Did you notice my use of AND instead of BUT?
“But” negates, “And” includes. Using an AND can be highly effective for many situations! You may have noticed in your own mindfulness, hearing the word “but” in response to something you have said can make you feel negated. We feel unheard, disagreed with, and put aside. When we can change the BUT to AND, we shift the conversation to an all inclusive, all points-heard-and-respected discussion.
Notice, in the Side and Glide role play above, where I provide the empathy and support first (“your parties are so fun and you work so hard at them”), and then gently Glide where I want to go instead (“let us get together after the holidays when things are quieter”).
I love offering an alternative. It’s kind of like the old rule of dating: When someone asks you out and you can’t go but you really do like them, you say “No, I can’t go then…can you do this date instead?” Giving the alternative immediately softens the blow of feeling turned down, and sends an instant message that you do, in fact, want to spend time with that person. Offering the alternative makes it clear that the timing is the issue to you saying “yes,” not that you don’t like the person. We shall address at some point in the future what to do if you really don’t want the person in your life anymore. “Breaking up” with friends or family members is an issue we need to discuss at a later date! For now, we will stick to turning down someone that you do want to keep in your life…
When it really boils down to it, I find that most “obligations” and the accompanying “guilt trips” are rooted in someone’s desire to spend time with you because they love you and want you to be part of their lives. Obligations can be rooted in someone’s value in traditions or may be someone’s desire to continue to recreate a time that has long since past. Sometimes our loved ones are not willing to fully accept that times have changed. All of these are understandable and do come from a good place, however the communication of what is really going on is often not skillfully conveyed. If you have been feeling obliged by your family and friends, can you see what the underlying motivation may be? Sometimes even understanding the drive behind the obligations helps you figure out your plan to address it.
If the obligations seem to stem from a place of wanting to spend time with you, remember that this can be successfully accomplished at any time of the year- not just on a holiday. You can even have a beautiful “holiday” meal and give gifts on any random day; you certainly do not have to do it on one specific day of the year! Think about what fun it could be to invite your loved ones to a Christmas in July BBQ! Sometimes designating the get-together as a special event (like calling it Christmas in July, or So-n-So’s Loving Family Get-together) will create the meaning and impact that the holidays have.
So, what happens when you do your Side and Glide approach and there is still resistance, objection, or a heavy-hearted disappointment?
You sit with it.
You tolerate it.
You agree with it.
You let it be there.
“Hi Aunt Edna, I do really love your holiday parties, AND this year I will be doing things slightly different and will need to miss the party…”
“Oh my gosh, NO! You MUST come! It’s tradition! I am so disappointed that you don’t have the time for me!”
“Yes, I know, I am sad to miss it, AND it’s really important that some years we go to So-n-So’s family events as well.”
“Is there any way you can make it?”
“Not this year, I know you are disappointed, AND I am wondering if we may be able to get together sometime after the holiday, just you and me so we can have some good quality time together and you can tell me all about the party?”
Loving and kind.
Firm and assertive.
Boundaried and empathic.
Saying No is not easy. Especially when it has not been practiced. The hardest part is holding firm and sitting with the persons’s feeling reactions to you turning down their invitation. Keep in mind that most reasons for this emotional reaction is that they love you and want you to spend time with them, so if you can acknowledge that you love them, AND offer another time that ensures quality interactions, you may be able to find a new alternative to Glide to!
Stay tuned for the final installment of the Holiday Series: “This is not how I want it”… coming out Tuesday!