During the holiday season, many of us celebrate and spend quality time with friends and family. “Tis the season to be jolly.” Sounds wonderful, but it is not always that easy! Sometimes spending time with family means re-living unpleasant memories or having to socialize with folks who… well, let’s just say it never went that well!
Most of us have (at least) that one friend or family member who just gets under our skin. We have been saying for years, “If Uncle Fred would just stop doing that dumb thing or be more this or that, I would like him a whole lot more.”
There is an old saying that goes, “To the extent that something or someone affects you, to that extent it is your karma.”
Karma means action. We can take this saying to mean that if something or someone affects us, it presents us with an opportunity to take a transformational action, or step towards transformation.
For some reason, Uncle Fred’s behavior causes us to react—to morph into a protective version of ourselves. Maybe we become quiet, withdrawn, passive-aggressive or just plain old mean. Somehow, we’ve allowed ourselves to become someone we don’t even like!
Now is the time to assess our emotional footprint.
What is an Emotional Footprint?
Imagine yourself walking through a garden. Are the plants reaching out to you as you walk (imagine a Disney scene)? Or are they retracting? Are you projecting a message of love and kindness—or are you crushing delicate flowers with each step?
Your emotional footprint is the impression you make—whether you are walking through a garden, entering a room, or interacting with family members.
Perhaps you came home one day and your wife was ignoring you and in her own way being kind of mean. When you asked her what was the matter, she replied, “Let me think. Oh yes, I know: three days ago you were really mean to me and it really hurt my feelings, and that’s why I am still mad at you.”
The emotional footprint you left on her three days ago didn’t go away! Now that you are aware of why she is upset, you can take the opportunity to take a transformational step.
Cycles of Hurt
Our first reaction, however, is often the opposite of transformational. When someone is throwing darts at us, it’s tempting to throw a dart back. When someone is mean to us, our first reaction is to be mean back. If you were mean back to your wife, she would probably be hurt again and withdraw further. Those first three days might turn into six. Sometimes couples slowly drift apart like this!
Going with our first reaction can create cycles of anger and hurt. The alternative is not to react, but to take action that is rooted in the truth of your feelings. The truth of your relationship with your wife is most likely that you love her, and an action rooted in that love—telling her you love her, making a cup of tea, giving a back rub—will create transformation.
Shedding those Old Defense Mechanisms
Back to mean old Uncle Fred. Imagine him as an eight-year-old boy. Maybe someone was mean to him and he had to create this gruff personality to survive. He grew thorns and stabbed people with them whenever he felt unsafe. To this day, he’s been stabbing people with those same thorns. There is still a flower underneath those thorns, but he will never show it. Too risky!
If you are just mean back to Uncle Fred, chances are you will only feel his thorns.
But what if instead of reacting with your patented response, you took a risk and said something nice to him? What would you lose?
Better yet! What would you gain?
- For one thing, you wouldn’t have to morph into that version of yourself that you don’t like.
- As a bonus, Uncle Fred might feel loved by you and maybe, just maybe, he will feel safe enough to disengage those thorns.
The Happy Hormone of Giving
If you take a risk to give and love this holiday season, it will literally change the chemistry in your brain.
Studies have shown that oxytocin, the hormone and neurotransmitter previously only associated with labor and breast-feeding, is also signaled to release by acts of appreciation, generous touch, gratitude, and emotional connections with others.
Oxytocin has been shown to:
- Increase longevity as a result of cancer support groups.**
- Treat addictions. When scientists administered oxytocin to rodents who were addicted to cocaine, morphine or heroin, the rodents opted for less drugs or showed fewer symptoms of withdrawal (Billings, 2006).
- Reduce cravings for sweets (Kovacs, 1998).
- Reduce anxiety and depression (Agren, 2002), (Unnas-Moberb, 1999).
- Increase sexual receptivity and counter impotence (Pederson, 2002).
- Counteract the effects of cortisol (a stress hormone), thereby boosting immunity (Legros, 2003).
- Extend the life-span of married people.**
- Extend the life-span of parents who are care-givers as opposed to non-care-giver parents.**
- Accelerate healing in those who have a loving pet.**
- Contribute to the healing effects of massage, acupuncture, and meditation.**
- So, take a risk this holiday season and love the person next to you. And then pass it forward to the ones who need it most—the ones who may have never received it.
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