Deck the Halls with Folly

Most adults with ADHD report having problems managing their emotional lives. Holiday events present opportunities to observe how internal experiences relate to external events. For example, if you are hosting an event, expect your uncle to pick a fight about politics, your mother-in-law to ask if you are ever going to have children, and your sister to present evidence that your mother liked you best. 

Nothing can trigger strong feelings more effectively than conflicts in our families. Those relationships are important, including the difficult ones. If you truly don’t care about your differences with a difficult family member, then what is the meaning of your angry thoughts? What is your story line that is so disturbing to you? As a young adult I thought there should be no bad drivers on the road. The thought disturbed no one but me, and it spawned some road rage. 

Try this exercise before the holidays: Imagine the last conflict you had with a difficult family member, or a conflict you might expect to have. Sit with it until you feel like you are actually there, right in the middle of it. What feeling comes up? Can you locate it in your body? What happens when you observe the feeling—not the thought—as a physical sensation. That’s what a feeling is. What happens when you invite it in, like a valued guest, without judging it or trying to change it. What happens when you simply let it wash over you and subside like a wave in the ocean. Where does the wave go?

Suspending certainty is a way to cultivate a flexible mind, and a flexible mind is a healthy one. This doesn’t mean that you should not trust your experience; you are the only expert on your experience. You just don’t have to trust the first thought that springs from a rush of emotion. After all, a thought is just a thought, and we don’t choose our feelings…feelings find us. They are rooted in our histories, often in multi-generational experiences, and they are a natural part of our biological makeup. Feelings should be respected.

As for unrealistic expectations for an ideal holiday experience, abandon them! My mom would always idealize the annual Christmas event that she planned for her siblings and their families. Despite her best efforts, her family never seemed to enjoy the event. It was part of Mom’s ritual, when our guests were gone, to say that she would never do it again. She repeated the experience many times, with the same ideal and the same result. 

You don’t have to host an event just because you always did. But if you choose to host, suspend any beliefs about how it will go…either way…fulfilling or disappointing. Keep a “don’t-know mind.” A wise teacher once said, “A don’t-know mind can do anything.” There’s no need to be an expert on the future. Expect the cast of characters be who they are, and your feelings to be what they will be. See what happens when you don’t try to engineer an outcome, or wish you could change someone.

Let it be. 

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