Police Psychology | If I Can Just Get Through This Month
by Gary S. Aumiller, Ph.D. ABPP
“…and I in my cap, had just settled our brains for a long winter’s…” fight! Perhaps if Clement Clarke Moore would have written his poem in 2016 instead of 1822, this may have been the line in “Twas the Night Before Christmas.” Many don’t find a serene “nap” on their schedule, in fact many “just want to get through it.” Get through the holidays is the major sentiment that a psychologist sees in his office from mothers, and fathers, and cops and most people out there. They often don’t let each other know in social relationships, but they sure do say it a lot in to a psychologist, even when we don’t ask. I just want to get through this damn holiday season without “going broke,” “without ringing someone’s neck,” “without getting a divorce,” “without killing my kids…” “Maybe I’ll just work Christmas and Christmas Eve.” The joys of the holidays!!
Holidays are a time when many people are happy, and quite a few are miserable or just powering through it. If you have an overly controlling person(s) in the family, you have obnoxiously opinionated people in the family (you should have heard some of the stories after Thanksgiving this year, less than a month after the election), you have someone in the family who has a personality disorder, or you even have kids who missed the discretion and manners line on the way out of heaven, you could be in for a rough holiday. Or if you have a family from Mars and you’re from Sheboygan, watch out, the Grinch lives in each of us and “his heart hasn’t grown 3 sizes that day” yet. Well, Doc, can’t I just keep a positive attitude and get through it? Bring a video camera, I want to see that solely for entertainment purposes. Can’t I just avoid everyone this Christmas? Do me a favor and make sure the battery on that camera is charged and please don’t throw it against the wall smashing it into a thousand pieces before I see.
When Preparation Meets Opportunity
As in any battle, preparation is key. In the first place, why are people so uptight on the holidays that they fight? There are many explanation for that. One is the increased stress. There is financial stress, stress of wanting it to be a perfect experience, anticipatory stress, and an often-underrated stress of feeling you forgot someone or something stress. That is a biggie. The big part of the stress is it takes you out of your routine like laying cozy in your own living room on your couch, covered in your own blanket. It doesn’t matter that usually you spend very little time in your own living room under your own blanket, the archetype (or imbedded image) is there. Any kind of stress builds up and can affect your overall level of reason. You must recognize your own stress.
Another factor goes back to Freud. Freud said that people’s own narcissism sometimes interacts with their “familiarity of family” and they see either themselves or the family members as less perfect and want to fight with them about it. In other words, either you or someone else doesn’t meet your standards so you want to confront them on everything they do wrong. As with all of Freud, take that with a grain of salt, but keep it in mind. You and your family are different, so let that happen.
I tend to be more of the I want to kick someone butt because they are obnoxious and a jerk and I wouldn’t choose to be friends or even acquaintances with them if we didn’t share a bloodline. So sharing a holiday with them is just not my cup of tea. But sometimes in life we are dealt a deck of cards and need to play them. So it is time to play.
Whatever your explanation and it should be a combination of the three, dealing with family at the holidays can be hard.
So What Does One Do?
Well in the first place, if you are prepared for what could happen, it doesn’t have to be a hard time. Remember your active listening skills from dealing with a PMI or an EDP. You can always reflect what is being said with no emotion attached. “So you’re really upset that I am being a jerk to you.” “Or you wish I would stop repeating what you’re saying.” When you get yelled at by the host just respond, “so you want me to validate your feelings.” Now look, you won’t calm anyone down at all, and you won’t change anyone’s mind, but you should have given up on that idea long ago. That’s what being prepared means. You’ll have fun pissing them off.
If you are pressed for an opinion, don’t accept the pressure. “I really don’t have an opinion on this one.” Remember, my old adage “it’s better to get your way than make your point.” People don’t care about your opinion anyway, so don’t give it.
What if the fight starts and it doesn’t involve you? Escape! Tell your spouse before you get there that you will be leaving if the fight starts and playing with the kids. Ask a nephew or a niece to show you their bounty for the day. Your own kids may not play with you, but nieces and nephew, or even a full stranger kid would love to show their new favorite uncle (or aunt) what toy they have to play with. Get heavily involved in the fantasy and let the fight rage on in the background. If it has nothing to do with you, don’t let it have anything to do with you. Now if someone tries to draw you in, you’ve got a problem. You have to go on and not express an opinion. “Wait until after we finish our tea party, or overtaking the mighty temple of doom.” Make it a long battle for supremacy over the raging Stormtroopers that keep coming. “There must be a million of them.” They will lose their interest and argue on.
You must prepare yourself to deflect or escape the battle over the lasagna and meatballs, or the ham and turkey, or the brisket and latkes. Make it a game, and enjoy your victory. For truly the holidays were made to be together and have fun, and in some families that is what is done. If your family is not one of them, be a kid again, and just play on Christmas or Hanukkah, either with the kids or with the guests. Keep your opinions out of the banter if it is a volatile family. Let them deal with their own narcissism. Remember, some people like to fight. Yes, some people find it enjoyable and engrossing. Let them have their drama and their fun.
Merry Christmas (or Hanukkah) to all, and to all a good fight.
Site Administrator: Gary S. Aumiller, Ph.D. ABPP
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