The Christmas season can be magical. A time for faith, for family, memories, togetherness. This can also be a tough season because of family, memories, togetherness. Contradictory? Not really. Stay with me on this and step back from the eggnog for a minute. Here goes.
Ever been in a conversation with someone, one that starts of pretty benignly, and all of a sudden you’re trudging through the muck? Yeah, me too. How does it happen? Triggers. What do I mean by that? Well, you’re having a conversation, it’s all puppies and kittens and then, you start to get a familiar feeling, a not so good familiar feeling. Except, you don’t recognize it like that. Your brain likely thinks, “why is my [fill in your person…husband, wife, boyfriend, child, friend] being a jerk?? Why are they trying to hurt me?” Sound familiar?
They’ve triggered you, unknowingly stepped on a mine that explodes in your head and they don’t even know they’re covered with the resulting sea of emotion. The hard part is that you often don’t know it either. This happened to me yesterday and when I stepped away from the conversation, I was feeling a little wrecked. But if you had listened to a recording of the conversation, you would have thought it sounded logical. Except to me, it was harsh, stern, I was in the wrong…but that was the trigger. The words unintentionally sucked my heart into a spiral.
When I thought about it later though, I realized that what was really happening is that the feeling I had in that moment, that wasn’t caused by the conversation. A trigger is something that sets off a memory tape or flashback that take you back to an uncomfortable, difficult time you’ve had in the past. For me, that was caused by times in the past when I’ve disappointed someone whose opinion I care greatly about and the feeling that came from those moments. So while the conversation I was having in that moment was pretty healthy, I unwittingly had a negative reaction and had to spend time in recovery to get myself past it.
What does all this have to do with the happiest time of the year? Christmas is a time that is surrounded by a lot of tradition for most people, which is awesome. Can be warm memories. But not for everyone. Some people had a different experience, difficult experiences and when the season comes around, those are the memories, the feelings that are triggered. And it might not be you. It could be your husband, wife…same list…or a co-worker. You’re not going to know the triggers that are there for others, but what you can know is that they could be there. You can ask questions, you can stick with that person and not take reactions personally. We’ve all got stuff, and if you know that, you’re lucky. Be someone who stands by your person, loves them through it, cares for them through it, tries to understand it with them, normalizes it for them. Your relationship will be stronger for it, and you can both get on with having the happiest season of all.