The holidays are a stressful time for most individuals and families. Words and phrases like surviving expectations, holding it together, letting go, getting through and making it often creep into our language while pushing out healthier, relationship and family building practices and descriptions that create Norman Rockwell-like images of what the holidays should elicit. And while there is wisdom in working toward a conflict-free holiday season, when the stress and difficulties that can accompany family get togethers are avoided or aired to children and adolescents, it can be easy to set a poor example of practices that teach compassion, self-care and forgiveness toward those with whom we share important relationships.
Establishing healthy boundaries within families and important relationships:
Seeing a person with which we feel a lot of love and care experience disappointment can be difficult to witness, particularly when we are the person that caused that disappointment. However, when we make commitments or agree to something we ultimately do not want to do, it is difficult not to breed resentment toward the person making the request. Further, it can be incredibly unfair when we have the ability to not acquiesce to a request and allow the other person the opportunity to experience the ‘no’ that we are too worried to provide. Setting reasonable expectations, avoiding over committing and just saying ‘no’ provides both us and the person making the request a golden opportunity to respect our own boundaries and allow the person making the request the opportunity to find another way to resolve the dilemma. When we provide a ‘yes’ when, ultimately, we want to say ‘no’, the resulting resentment can impact the relationship without the requester having any idea why.
Setting reasonable and healthy boundaries:
Be honest with yourself about your needs! Knowing what you want or need is the first step in actually getting what you want or need! If it is helpful to take a minute, consult with another person or take some space to rehearse what you want to say, take the 60 seconds.
Clearly communicate those needs to others! While it can feel like we are letting someone down softly when we give the ‘slow no’, it is more compelling, accurate and articulates our needs with clarity when we communicate the compassionate ‘no’. Often, when we give a maybe when we know the ultimate answer will be ‘no’, we add additional pressure to change our response and the other person can feel misled and frustrated. Remember that it is easier to rebound from a clear ‘no’ than feeling resentful when we give a frustrated ‘yes’.
Requests or questions have at least 2 potential answers! When we are asked to do something, we have the capacity to say ‘yes’ or ‘no’. While there are certainly factors that can help us feel pressured to answer in the affirmative (inequity of power in the relationship, worry about disappointing the other person, potential consequences for saying ‘no’ or lacking the practice or skill of turning someone down), we always have the ability to respond with a ‘no’. Often, it can be helpful for both the person saying ‘no’ as well as the recipient if we have a reason or provide the wisdom in why we are saying ‘no’.
Apologize when needed and avoid the ‘sorry’ if it is unwarranted. If, in good faith, we committed to do something where we now need to change our ‘yes’ to a ‘no’, it is imperative to apologize once. Good apologies have 3 simple steps. First, acknowledge the wrongdoing. Second, provide reparations where possible. Third, commit to not doing the same act again. When an apology is not warranted, (apologizing for something we cannot control or for someone else feeling a certain way) avoid apologies. They will likely feel hollow and lower the value of future apologies when they are indicated.
The practice of forgiveness is one of the most difficult tasks that children, adolescents and adults encounter. While the verbal practice of saying “I forgive you” seems simple enough (and is very similar to another integral 3 word phrase “I love you”!), the actual process and practice of forgiveness can take weeks, months or years depending on variables such as the impact of the injustice, temperament of the person providing and receiving the forgiveness and the importance of the relationship. While winter holiday practices often revolve around thankfulness and gratitude, employing forgiveness can be as or more important in supporting and/or mending relationships.
Forgiveness can vary quite a bit developmentally. Children are often taught the reflexive “I forgive you” once an apology is provided, even though their affect around the injustice may not be addressed at all. In the same way that apologies can often feel empty when provided too often or for the same act, forgiveness can be rendered meaningless when it is just an automated response to be polite or let another ‘off the hook’ when they say they are sorry. As we gain years both chronologically and developmentally, it can become easier to communicate, practice and set limits around who and how we forgive another. We also become acutely aware that the act of forgiveness often benefits the person practicing forgiveness as much as the recipient, as people that practice forgiveness has been demonstrated to reduce anger, anxiety and depression while increasing self-worth and hopefulness.
Helpful hints in practicing forgiveness
Practicing forgiveness is actually a practice! Much like other learned skills, forgiveness requires thought, preparation and practice to be executed well. We should expect that forgiving someone often comes with affect and that affect, often, makes a lot of sense given the infraction.
Acknowledge difficult feelings and thoughts! When frustration and resentment arise, it can be helpful to acknowledge the feelings and thoughts rather than push them away. By finding their wisdom, it can help provide self-validation that they make sense and help guide us toward a more regulated and genuine forgiveness for the person and act of injustice.
Be honest with yourself and the person you are forgiving! It is integral to be genuine with the person you are forgiving by letting them know (1) how you felt (2) how you were affected (3) you are ok and (4) that it is important to forgive them because your relationship is meaningful
Remember the golden rule includes forgiveness. Rumor has it that we are all fallible and, likely, have all had to ask for forgiveness many times in our lives. We also have likely experienced what it is like when people are compassionate and thoughtful in providing forgiveness. Remember how powerful emotions such as shame and guilt are and try and articulate forgiveness in the same manner in which you would like someone else to forgive you.
Like Elsa, let it go! If you are truly forgiving someone, it does not mean that there won’t be residual feelings that come up around a particularly emotional transgression from a close relationship. However, when we forgive someone, it is important to avoid going back and revisiting the act that elicited the forgiveness. Often, the person who is forgiving will feel a sense of relief and diminished anger through the practice of forgiveness, but it is not fair to circle back to the person after forgiving them.