SHESAID resident psychologist Kim Chartres answers your most awkward and confronting questions.
Every year my extended family all get together for a big dinner, but it’s always fraught with arguments. I absolutely dread going because I feel like I spend the whole time being interrogated and attacked. If I’m not being asked when my husband and I are going to start having kids then I’m being told how slack I was for missing my grandmother’s 50th birthday last year. The whole thing is so tense, I just want to avoid it altogether this year, but I know I’ll be guilt-tripped forever if I miss it.
Is there a polite way I can explain I just don’t want to be part of all the drama this year and would prefer some quality time with my husband to actually enjoy Christmas together instead?
Dear Over It,
I think you’ve just asked the million dollar question for anyone wanting to avoid yet another Christmas fiasco with an extended family they’d rather avoid. It can be a torturous chore for thousands of individuals and you’d probably find most attend specifically out of guilt, just like yourself. So to solve your problem I’d like to put guilt into perspective. Once you can do this, you’ll have no problem saying thanks, but no thanks.
Now as most of us know, guilt can be really destructive and has the capacity to eat away at us like a rat gnawing on rope until it’s chewed its way through. It’s very powerful stuff reaching right into our hearts, and unfortunately, some people have successfully mastered the art of using guilt to their advantage.
Most people who do this manipulate others into doing things they’d prefer not to do. In your case, taking on the guilt cast in your direction means feeling obligated to attend yet another drama filled family Christmas dinner, despite every bone in your body screaming, ‘Hell no, not again!’. So let me say quite emphatically, you don’t have to.
Fortunately guilt has an upside people often neglect. It’s an emotion and no one can force anyone to feel something they don’t want to feel. To give you an example, think about other emotions like happiness, sadness or even nervousness. No matter how hard others may try, they can’t force a happy person to feel sad or visa versa. Unless of course we allow them to, because emotions originate from within us.
Remembering this is key when learning to say no without automatically taking on guilt someone else would prefer you to feel. Sure, they might say things to influence your emotions, but ultimately it’s up to you as the individual to either ignore their suggestion or take it on board.
Previously you’ve chosen to take it on, even if it hasn’t been a conscious choice, so if you really want to enjoy Christmas with your husband, learning this vital skill will not only set you free from feeling obliged to attend this year’s Christmas dinner, but anything you’d prefer not to do, now, or in the future.
Lastly, if saying no without taking on guilt presents as a daunting task, practice with less significant things. It can be anything you’d feel obliged to do because you’d prefer not to feel guilty. At first guilt will probably be an automatic reaction you’ll experience, but over time, this will ease. With practice, saying no without experiencing guilt will become second nature and you’ll finally be able to enjoy Christmas day how you’d prefer to spend it; drama and interrogation free with your beloved husband.
Got a relationship dilemma or serious life issue you’re not sure how to deal with? Send your questions to Kim at firstname.lastname@example.org.