Any time you find yourself back in a familiar situation – like celebrating the holidays with your family of origin, in-laws or old friends – you tend to react in familiar ways. Whether you know it or not, you have a well-rehearsed, ingrained pattern of behavior you engage in, and an equally well-honed set of responses to those around you…especially those you grew up around.

When the pattern is constructive, respectful and loving the gathering tends to feel like the blessing and celebration of life it’s intended to be. When there is stress and strain in the relationships, what could be a joyful time is marred by any variety of tension and negativity.

If your experience of holiday gatherings is less than peaceful and enjoyable, this holiday, try something different. Instead of interacting and responding like you have for so many years, make a conscious choice before you leave home, if you’re going to be a guest or if you’re the host, before the first guest arrives, to do all you can to make the gathering a positive, peaceful and enjoyable experience – for you and everyone else.

When you’re triggered by Uncle Joe’s teasing about your bad taste in partners, or your Mother’s comments about why you’re dressed like that, or your sister’s stories about all the money she’s making and the places she’s traveled to, remember your decision – your conscious choice – to make the time together positive, peaceful and enjoyable. In that moment, ask yourself, “Do I really have to respond to what he just said in the way I’ve always responded?” Of course the answer is, “No.” You can look at him and smile, choosing to add a new step to the dance between the two of you with something as simple as, “You know, Uncle Joe, you’re right. I have had some weird partners. Pray that I choose better.” Or, to your sister you can say, and mean, “I’m so proud of you. You must be happy. You’ve worked hard for what you’ve achieved.” Acknowledge the truth in what’s said versus getting hooked by it.

At every turn, when you feel old, familiar, negative thoughts and reactions welling up, ready to burst forth, before you respond, take a deep breath and remember your decision – your conscious choice – to do all you can to add peace and enjoyment to the gathering.

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