FEATURE — The holidays are supposed to be a joyous time with family and friends, but far too often they’re loaded with tension and arguing. Old resentments rise to the surface, unresolved issues spark an explosion, or we simply spend enough time together to get on each other’s nerves. Whatever the case may be, if you’re looking for a harmonious holiday, these five steps, which are based on emotionally-focused therapy, will help if mindfully applied:
Step One: Recognize your body’s signs of anger
All of us get angry, and sometimes our anger gets out of hand. We say and do things that we later regret or we shut down and push others away; neither of these help us to get the closeness we want. Our bodies actually warn us that this is about to happen with signs like accelerated heart rate, feeling “hot”, shallow breathing, clenched fists and jaws, and more. How does your body let you know that you’re angry? Pay attention, because that’s your cue to move to Step Two.
Step Two: Stop and calm down
Get some exercise. Listen to music that calms you. Take a hot shower. Pray or meditate. Drink some cocoa or egg nog. Especially effective is taking slow, deep breaths; this will increase blood flow and oxygen to your brain, helping you to think more clearly.
Step Three: Identify the vulnerable emotion underneath the anger
All anger is actually a vulnerable emotion in disguise. If someone insults you, under your anger is hurt. If your teen walks in three hours past curfew, under your anger is fear and worry. If someone publicly chastens you, under your anger is embarrassment.
Step Four: Put yourself in the other person’s shoes
When upset, we often assume we are right and the other person is wrong. It is only after calming down (Step Two) that we can start to see things from their point of view. Often mistakes are made that need to be corrected, and apologized for. It’s important to realize that everyone’s behavior makes sense to them, so if we think someone is being irrational or idiotic, it often means that we need to try harder to understand their perspective. Even if we disagree with and can’t condone the other person’s words or behavior, it is important to try to relate to the emotions they are experiencing.
Step Five: Express steps four and three
Tell them what you imagine their experience to be like without claiming to know what they’re going through. Trust them with your vulnerable emotion instead of manipulating them with anger; letting someone know that you’re hurt, scared, sad or embarrassed often draws them near, while anger always pushes them away.
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Written by Jonathan Decker for St. George Health & Wellness magazine and St. George News.
Jonathan Decker is a licensed marriage and family therapist with an office at the St. George Center for Couples and Families. He can be contacted by email at or by phone at 435-215-6113. To learn more, please visit his website.
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