Tips to Survive the Holidays

The RULE for Surviving Festive Family Gatherings

The holidays are upon us. After last year’s lonely COVID Christmas, many of us look forward to gathering in person with family and friends this year. We’re so keen to socialize we may have forgotten how these events can often be fraught; full of fireworks, unmet expectations and drama.

So ALAViDA’s gift to you: we’re sharing a few of the concepts from one of the most successful therapy techniques, called Motivational Interviewing. In a therapeutic context, Motivational Interviewing is all about engaging and empowering the client to change. In Motivational Interviewing, there exists an acronym called “RULE,” which serves as a guide for how therapists should interact with clients. “Many years ago, I employed RULE to smooth over a few difficult family gatherings,” says addictions therapist and ALAViDA advisor Mike Pond, “and I was gratified at how much the dynamic changed thanks to these simple techniques.  This was not about changing anybody else’s behaviour. It was about changing myself. It also gave me a much-needed dose of humility,” he laughs. Pond shares how you can use RULE too.

Interested to read more about how to cope during the holiday season, read more here. 

The “R” stands for “resist the righting reflex.”  Often those who are prone to the “righting reflex,” may have the best of intentions.  We just know the solution to someone’s problem and are insistent on sharing it. We want to make people feel better. But in doing so, we can make them feel worse because we rob them of their own sense of agency. And there is the very real possibility, what you consider right, could very well be wrong for someone else. If someone presents a problem, just listen. Don’t jump in to solve it. Empathize. Which means saying “you understand, you feel for them.” And often that’s all that’s required.

The “U’ is “understand the person’s motivation.” Is there someone you dread being seated beside because they talk only about themselves? That person may be desperately lonely or feel their contributions are undervalued. If you can keep the question, “what’s the motivation behind this behaviour?” front and centre you’ll bring patience and compassion to this situation and feel less resentful. You’ll role-model a much-needed generosity of spirit and who knows, it might spread!

The “L” is ‘listen.” “Kind of  “no duh…” says Pond, “but I continue to catch myself not listening to people I love, never mind the people who irritate me.” We need to practice “reflective” listening, which means, summarize and restate what the person told you. Feeling “heard” is a great gift to give someone at Christmas.

E” stands for “empower.” Very likely, there will be someone at your dinner table who is viewed by the entire family as a failure. This person has suffered much needling at past dinners and probably dreads the impending pile on. Don’t let it start. Take time to consider this person’s successes and point them out. Let them know you believe in them. Cultivate a sense of hope.  Ask “how” and “what” questions, not “why” because that tends to get people defensive.

Now. Sit down and envision your Christmas gathering. Imagine the sea of faces and think about which aspect of RULE will work best with the family members you find most challenging.  You’ll be a change agent. You’ll find yourself truly living what the holidays are supposed to be about: spreading joy and goodwill.

Looking for more strategies to manage during the holidays? Read more here.

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