I’ve done much research and writing on the topic of hiding anger. I’ve found that when you’re dealing with difficult people, perhaps you’ve actually collected these characters into your life because you haven’t been assertive enough. In other words, you have become a people pleaser. It’s especially difficult during the holidays season.
Be determined to stop pleasing everyone else this year. Live the holiday YOU want by using these tips excerpted from Overcoming Passive-Aggression:
1. Identify what YOU like and dislike. What kind of extended family gatherings do you enjoy? Yes, you! Too often, families may continue traditions born of their elder’s preferences, and if they work and you love them, keep them. However, if you envision your holidays very differently, work to create events or an entire season where you can enjoy those preferences and not have to suffer through your dislikes.
2. You can’t change anyone but yourself. Doing the same thing, expecting a different result is what we colloquially call insanity. If standard routine has you sitting down in front of the football game after the meal, help out instead or interact with people in positive ways. Compliment instead of criticize. If you change what you do, you just might see a change in other people’s behavior. Soon the whole dynamic might turn around.
3. Know the four stages of anger: the build up (layers of unresolved squabbles), the spark (the little thing it takes to set someone off), the explosion (yelling, name calling or worse) or implosion (seething anger inside with harmful effects), and the aftermath (clean up stage). The most forgotten stage is that last one, but if you clean up your angry messes just as you would spilled soda or crumbs left behind, this last argument won’t form the buildup to something next time, maybe even next year.
4. Learn to become more assertive and to solve problems. When anger erupts with behavior or harsh, snarky words, attend to the hurt feelings first. Tackle the problem at hand without getting sidetracked.
5. Create another day, another time. Cutting off from family and friends isn’t advisable. Research tells us how valuable socialization is to good mood and longevity. Family systems theory alerts us that cutoff drives more anxiety than it cures. However, if the situation is quite toxic with ingrained, difficult personalities that make holidays miserable for you and your children, you may need to set aside time for a separate gathering with key players in your life. This may mean selecting another date and time that does not fall on the actual holiday date.
Yes, holidays are often filled with five or six weeks of excess—overtaxed schedules, unrealistic expectations, strained finances, way too much food or drink—and sometimes people with whom we wouldn’t ordinarily get together for lunch, let alone a significant, symbolic holiday meal. Make problem solving and anger management a resolution this season. You don’t have to wait for New Year’s to start.
Loriann Oberlin, MS, LCPC is the co-author of Overcoming Passive-Aggression (DaCapo/Perseus Book Group). She also writes women’s fiction with real life themes under pen name Lauren Monroe.