When I have been listened to and when I have been heard, I am able to re-perceive my world in a new way and go on.  It is astonishing how elements that seem insoluble become soluble when someone listens. How confusions that seem irremediable turn into relatively clear flowing streams when one is heard.

~ Carl Rogers, Founder of Humanistic Psychology

Turkeys aren’t the only ones stressed out during the Holiday Season!

The holidays are filled with joy and their frenzied pace can fill them with stress.

There is SO much going on. We are repeatedly tempted to eat too much of everything, especially all the sweet treats of the season.  We have three big events (Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s) and multiple invitations to smaller events for which we must plan. The stress of travelling may be a part of the mix.  We may have opportunities to talk to challenging relatives who are very different from us.  This can be especially difficult given our divisive political climate.

And, we’re all subject to the intense cultural pressure to be happy during the holidays.

Whew! What to do?

Take care of yourself!  There are as many ways to show self-care as there as ways to care for others.  Use the ones that you know work for you.

My favorite way to care for me is to receive empathy.  When it comes to dealing with the charged emotions of the holidays, this is the most powerful skill to reduce stress.  Empathy is a core skill of Compassionate Communication, and involves focusing your attention on what’s happening in you (self-empathy) or what’s going on in another person (empathy for others).  It often includes a reflection intended to help you connect to yourself or another person.  Both versions provide relief from times of stress and confusion.

As Carl Rogers says, it allows us to re-perceive what’s happening within ourselves and gain a sense of relief and healing.  It’s a concrete way to express love to another person by attending to them and providing a spoken reflection allowing them to go deeper into their experience.  It also works to defuse situations by tuning another person into their needs when angry.  This can be life-saving!

What does Empathy look like in practice?

My wife, Katie, had a profound experience of the power of empathy a few years ago on the same day we led a training together at NAU.  Earlier that day, she had gone out with an elderly friend in the friend’s vehicle.   As Katie’s friend opened the driver-side door after parking, it bumped a shiny, red sports car and made a small mark.  As the elderly friend inspected the mark, a man ran out of a nearby storefront.

With a red-face, booming voice, and clenched fists, he said, “You’re going to pay for that!” along with some choice expletives.

Katie was on the verge of a defensive response to protect her friend.  Instead, she attempted to connect using empathy by guessing at the man’s feelings, matching his tone and saying, “Wow, you must be very angry!”

He replied: “Angry! You BET I’m angry!” as his face reddened more deeply and he stepped toward her.  Katie was worried that her attempt to deescalate the situation may have back-fired.

Still visibly agitated, he said, “You have no idea! I just spent $3000 on a new paint job for this car!”

Bravely, Katie offered another round of empathy, saying, in a measured tone: “Yeah. You’ve put a lot of care into this car.”

“You bet I have. Look at this!” he said, pointing to the scratch. “This is going to be expen–,” he paused and suddenly looked at Katie and glanced at her elderly friend.

Coming down from his rush of anger, he asked, “She didn’t do it on purpose, did she?”

“No,” Katie and her friend answered softly together.

The man took two steps back and said, just as softly, “I’m sure we’ll figure it out. It’s only a paint job.”

Katie and her friend each breathed a sigh of relief as the friend pulled out her insurance card, ready to deal with a much calmer car owner.

On November 15th and December 20th, I’m offering evenings of “Empathy for the HoliDAZE” at the Episcopal Church. To sign up, go to this link.  Come to learn how to practice empathy and move us toward a world where everyone Communicates with Heart