Sunday, 30 November 2014

Holiday season: time of joy or time of sorrow?

Another year has almost gone by Thanksgiving, Christmas and the holiday season are upon us. It is said to be the season of gratefulness, season of joy, season of giving... Or is it? Instead, for many people this time of year is the time of summing up the records for the year behind and often this brings up sadness and emptiness they feel in their life. For many of us this is the time of increased anxiety and stress, weeks spent in fear and anticipation of the Thanksgiving and/or Christmas Day when instead of joy we experience hurt, sadness, annoyance or frustration, triggered by what we perceive as a judgement from a parent, insensitive comment by a partner or ungratefulness of our child. 
Instead of being open and connecting from the depth of our heart, expressing how we truly feel and what we value, we put on a mask, we pretend to be happy and to be enjoying ourselves for the sake of ''the peace and harmony in the family''. Instead of being true to ourselves we try to be 'nice' to others ending up either arguing with or withdrawing from (in order to protect ourselves) those who are supposed to be the closest to us: our parents, siblings, partner, children or in-laws. Another 'season of joy' is turning out to be a 'season of sadness and sorrow' for many. Instead of true connection and sharing we have just experienced yet another 'do not rock the boat pretend all is fine and we are a one great, happy family' moments.

This is not surprising, because since the early childhood most of us have learned to think and communicate in an impersonal way that does not require us to reveal what is going on inside of ourselves, but rather to think and speak in terms of 'rightness' and 'wrongness' of others, or ourselves. We focus our attention on demanding, criticising, blaming and judging ourselves and others instead of focusing on what we and others are feeling and needing. This kind of thinking and speaking, at best, creates misunderstandings. Mostly, though, it obstructs communication and at worst it leads to deep seated sadness and hurt, conflicts, broken relationships and divorces. 
Yet, it does not have to be so. Instead of our habitual way of communicating where we either 'fight-or-flight' we can learn to respond in an alternative way. We can dare to honestly express what is most alive in us and, at the same time, we stay open to receiving what others wish to share with us without hearing words of criticism, blame, judgement or demand. This alternative can be found in Nonviolent Communication (NVC), also known as Compassionate Communication. Developed in 1960s by Dr. Marshall B. Rosenberg. NVC is based on principles of human interconnectedness and humanistic psychology. It offers us a powerful vehicle for relating to ourselves and others, using a simple, yet deeply powerful model for personal growth, as well as a method of healing interpersonal relationships, and, last but not least, a method for conflict resolution and mediation. NVC is based on the fundamental principle that all human beings have the same basic needs (e.g. food, shelter, security, freedom, respect, connection, meaning, etc.) and that everything we do is a way to try and meet our needs. Since all of us can identify with these basic needs, recognising, understanding, acknowledging and empathising with our own needs and those of others, as well as accepting that meeting needs of everyone involved is equally important, can create a shared basis for connection. We can, when connected at this level, give from the heart and contribute to peace, both our inner peace and the peace in the world.
Learning and practising NVC has changed my life, not only has it helped me to improve my personal relationships, but more importantly, it has brought me closer to myself, to understanding, accepting and loving myself and through that becoming more peaceful, understanding, accepting and loving of others. This journey has helped me see how important it is for me to share it with others with a hope that we all might benefit from this process. 
So if you have looked at the year behind feeling unhappy and dissatisfied with your life or 'stuck' in your relationships you can do something about it. It is possible to live a life of joy, it is possible to have an honest and close relationship, firstly with yourself, and then with your partner, parent and/or your child. of course, it is not always going to be easy. Just when you think 'yes I am in touch with my needs, I am feeling peaceful and loving' the life will send you a trigger, normally in the form of one of your cousins or siblings, telling you who you are or what you should do. In those moment the challenge would be to stop and allow yourself to act with a choice from connection with your needs rather than to react from a habit and your conditioned reflex. Those situations and triggers would be gifts (not that you would see them as such in those moments) disguised as challenges on your path to self discovery and authenticity. 

If you have reached that point in life where suppressing yourself and trying to protect yourself from vulnerability by hiding and loosing who you really are does not work for you any longer, then you can do something about it. There is no better time to start than now! You can make every season be the season of joy for you and those around you.

If you like this article, please forward it to whoever you think can benefit from it.

Gordana Stankovic is a counsellor and coach who integrates person centered approach with the NVC model. Gordana is available through phone/Skype and in person consultations, for more information please look at her website: or send her an