To all of our friends, clients, vendors and readers, we wish each and everyone of you a very happy holiday season, filled with good spirit and family gatherings.  May your New Year be your happiest, and most prosperous, ever.

But, should that holiday party or family gathering turn out to be a little stressful, here’s some good counsel on how to avoid committing a crime against family from Gina Simmons of

Holidays: An Occasion for Crimes of the Heart


Illustration from children's novel, Christmas ...

In Beth Henley’s Pulitzer Prize-winning play Crimes of the Heart, an attempted murder, graft and suicide form the backdrop for a story about the vulnerability of the human heart.

In many families, the holidays set the stage for a dysfunctional dance of drunk and disorderly conduct. Many of my clients dread visiting relatives during the winter holidays where the weather feels cold both inside and out. Rates of intimate partner violence and child abuse increase with the appearance of mangers and Christmas trees. For survivors of abuse, the holidays come with flashbacks of trauma that can trigger depression and anxiety, years after the abuse ended.

Holiday times also foster high expectations for love, connection, joy, gifts and good cheer. These high expectations collide with work pressure, time and money constraints and countless chores. Women feel more stress than men during the holidays, as we do most of the planning, shopping, cleaning, cooking, gift-wrapping and entertaining. Cranky, tired, stressed-out women don’t look like a Norman Rockwell painting of holiday bliss. Resentment builds when husbands look forward to the holidays as a time to rest, watch football and drink beer. Frazzled and furious women rage at their reclining-remote-grabbing men while so much work remains undone.

Even Rats Have Empathy

Relationships work better with empathy. In a recent study, rats showed empathy for another rat in distress, and made sacrifices to their own pleasure in order to help a stranger. Yet year after year we highly evolved humans avoid those in distress, even those in our own families. We criticize and judge, and fail to empathize with the ones we love. Instead of committing these crimes of the heart, create holiday happiness by showing care and patience, considering the unique pressures we all feel at this time of year.

Mind Readers are illiterate

When we expect others to know what we need, (mind read) we set them up for failure and set ourselves up for disappointment. When we assume we know the motives, thoughts and feelings of others, we’re engaged in mind reading, a thought distortion that leads to interpersonal conflict. Aunt Grace thinks your children are lazy because she bought them athletic socks for Christmas. Your secret Santa intended to insult you by giving you a desk calendar, (he’s implying you don’t manage your time well). Don’t over think the meaning of gifts and just appreciate that someone bothered to do something for you.

Let Go

At the end of an Iyengar yoga class, students recline on their backs in Savasana, or “corpse pose.” The instructor softly says, “let go everywhere,” as the body fully relaxes into the floor. This provides an experience of acceptance and release of control. During holiday times it helps to let go of the need to control the feelings and behaviors of others. Relinquish the need for everyone to feel happy. Let people follow their own emotional journey. With kindness and patience, or unkindness and impatience, friends and family will get along or not.

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