The holidays can be a confusing and frustrating time for many people. Not only are they challenging in and of themselves with all there is to do and the added intensity of dealing with family, but they can also pull emotions from deep within that you are not used to feeling or handling during the rest of the year. One of the most challenging and surprising of those is anger at the holidays. Even people who are usually calm and able to deal with the irritations of daily life can find themselves silently fuming or lashing out at others during this supposedly peace filled season. This can be an extremely unpleasant and confusing discovery. Why are you suddenly so angry and what do you do with it?
Anger is very uncomfortable, it can create all sorts of physical symptoms like pressure, headaches, stomach upset, tense muscles, sleeplessness, and shaking. Anger at the holidays also manifests itself in ways that make the angry person and the people around them even more distressed through crying, yelling, unsafe driving, rude remarks, even slamming doors or breaking things. This can come as quite a shock, and results in higher tension and often feelings of guilt or shame accompany the confusion after an angry outburst.
So where does this holiday anger come from? It most often goes back to family. You spend most of your year living your life the way you have chosen to develop it as an adult and often that means with limited or well managed contact with family members. You are able to keep contact to a minimum with those people you have had bad experiences with in the past or have very strained relationships with due to old hurt, disrespect, or misunderstandings.
Suddenly, at the holidays, you find yourself not only obligated to spend extended amounts of time in his, her or their presence, with everyone else witnessing and the expectations of loving holidays, you also are unable to escape or comfortably limit conversing directly with them. Often this means that just the sound of this person’s voice, let alone the irritating comments he or she makes, or maybe even just the thought of this forced contact gets your blood boiling and there you are, angry instead of joyful for your holidays.
It is very common with family that damaged connections, emotional wounds, and disrespect are brushed under the rug rather than discussed and resolved. We are expected to accept our family members for all that they do or say to us because we “know they really love us, even if they don’t show it.” In the end that translates into “Allow them to hurt you and don’t try to change it, just swallow it and be quiet.” Somehow family is magically released from the normal bonds of the Golden Rule and the natural human reactions to love and abuse. This absurd idea that a family member can say or do as they please to you and you are not allowed to respond in the same way you would to a co-worker, lover or stranger is deeply ingrained in most of us and has long lasting repercussions; we naturally carry those hurts and stifled reactions with us into adulthood.
Because you could not respond to the hurts you experienced as a child, teen and/or young adult, they have dwelled and festered inside you all this time. With no ability or permission to address and resolve the issues, the wounds never healed. Now when you are faced with that person suddenly being dropped into your life again for the holidays, the pain resurfaces along with the frustration of still feeling unable to resolve anything, the automatic defensive position into which you mentally crouch, and the possibility of continued abuse by that person. That is where all the anger comes from.
That doesn’t mean you are stuck just knowing where your anger at the holidays is coming from with nothing to do about it. Getting a clearer idea of the trigger for your anger is just the first step in taking care of the problem and relieving you of this terrible feeling. Though it can be an uncomfortable process at first, you owe it to yourself to take a little time and think about:
Towards whom do you feel anger at the holidays?
- Search inside you for the real anger, not just irritation which is probably a residual effect of the true anger or other stressors like being annoyed at the other shoppers in front of you in line at the mall.
For each of those people, because there may be more than one, think about:
How long have you been angry at this person?
Where there hostile incidents or arguments in your past with them that damaged your relationship? What is your major complain?
Is this a pattern of behavior or treatment that continues, (they keep mistreating you?) or is this a lingering anger from a major wound long ago?
What about those wounds or behaviors truly upsets you?
Did you feel disrespected? Lose trust? Feel afraid?
6. What needs to happen for you to either forget forgive or to confront?
Now that you know more about the source and trigger of your anger at the holidays, and what should happen for you to resolve the incident, you can move forward with steps to either manage your internal and external reactions to it, or finally resolve it.
Often just knowing what the cause was, especially if it was a hurt your experienced as a child or much younger adult, can help you to get past it. Identifying the ways in which you were hurt, how you have grown and changed since then and where you are in your relationship with that person now can be enough to help you move past it and simply view that relationship in a new and healthier way.
If that is not the case, it may take a little more work to manage how your anger affects you and your relationships. Anger is natural and can be positive if you approach it and deal with it in the right way. In the book the Tao of Anger, you can learn about the effects of anger on your life and find ways of releasing and experiencing your anger in a much healthier manner.
In addition to managing your anger, learning to confront someone in a healthy and results-oriented manner can address the problem at its root and pave the way for a better relationship with the other person. You probably need to learn some skills to make your needs known without alienating others; the information on healthy confrontation, assertion skills and ways to engage in Fair Fighting is an upcoming piece in this Holiday Survival plan.