The Grinch Rules – 3 Strategies for a Worry-Free Holiday Season

As we countdown to Christmas day, for some the excitement of spreading joy and merriment is intoxicating. For others, the pressure to create a healthy, happy Christmas can trigger anxiety. 

The fact is statistics tell a different Christmas tale than the storybook version of “the most wonderful time of the year.”

In this post I’ll write about three strategies I’ve recently shared with clients to stop worrying about the holidays. 

  1. Extend Compassion Over Criticism – Compassion connects us while criticism divides us.
  2. Separate the Person from Their Behaviour – A way to put the “velvet around the brick” when you want to address a difficult person. 
  3. Set Clear Ground Rules for Grinches – We all encounter them in one way or another. A Grinch is an oppositional personality (aka, a sniper) who enjoys being rude, mean-spirited, and critical of others. 

Whatever your mental or emotional state this Christmas, applying these tools can ensure a safe and worry-free holiday season.

Extend Compassion Over Criticism

One Christmas when I returned home from university, my mother gave me five clip-on bowties from the 1970’s. Maybe you’re into 70’s retro, big afro looks. I know I was. But these were propellers not bowties. 

Compassionately, I realised my mother was going through an emotional time. When I opened the box and looked inside, I smiled. I understood that she tried to find unique presents like purple paisley, yellow and pink bowties from vintage retailers. 

In being compassionate I avoided criticism. I nicely displayed the dayglo bowties underneath the tree with all the other nice gifts we exchanged. We had a lovely Christmas day together. In the end that’s really what mattered.

You might need to do something similar. Someone may be happy they’ve given you such a perfect gift. Meanwhile you’re biting your lip wondering what that person was thinking. Act compassionately, not critically. Compassion connects us, whereas criticism divides us. Compassion is also a way to initiate gratitude, a natural anti-depressant. Both will support you in being worry-free this Christmas.

Separate the Person from Their Behaviour

My favourite Christmas comedy is National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation. Chevy Chase plays Clark Griswold, a loving father and husband who, despite his genuine efforts to make his family happy, manages to create chaos instead.

Applying a compassionate perspective, it can be viewed that Clark is doing his best. Yet, he ends up in ridiculous situations and puts his family at risk as a result. The challenge is Clark rarely listens to his wife and kids when he’s warned of potentially deleterious consequences of his actions. 

As a person, Clark is a lovely man. His behaviour, however, is something his entire family struggles to cope with.

You may also struggle with a family member this Christmas and it may not be a comedy. To support your compassion for a harlequin like Clark Griswold or a Grinch see if you can separate the person you may like, from their behaviour you may dislike.

In addressing the person speak to their behaviour and how it’s making things difficult for you. This helps you feel affection toward the person and lets them know you have a tolerance limit for their behaviour.

This strategy also allows you to “put velvet around the brick” when you address the need for their behaviour to change. Doing this reduces anxiety around having difficult conversations. 

Setting Clear Ground Rules for Grinches 

In terms of Christmas worries perhaps the most challenging is this last strategy of dealing with visitors or hosts who are more of a bogeyman like The Grinch. 

If you remember, The Grinch was born with a heart that was “two-sizes too small”. He was orphaned at birth, teased as a youngster, and sufficiently humiliated by his Whoville classmates. He lived on a cliff for 53 years. As a result, one can speculate, The Grinch was not happy. According to some mental health sources he may have been clinically depressed and suffered from PTSD from childhood trauma.

Extending compassion, one could adopt the view that The Grinch was shaped by his unfortunate life circumstances. As a child he did his best to be part of a community where his appearance made him ogre-like. Inevitably, he felt cast away from the community where he longed for acceptance.  

Separating The Grinch from his abominable behaviour, it can be viewed that he was suffering from a difficult past. He didn’t begin as a bad Grinch. Yet, his behaviour was mean. 

The Grinch Rules

Ground rules are boundaries, codes of conduct that ensure your connection with a group operates in a supportive, prosocial manner. 

If you were a Whoville resident and invited The Grinch to Christmas dinner, what ground rules would you set?

Think about this with respect to any Grinches that are headed your way over the holiday.

You could suggest things like, be on time, bring a dish to share, take off your shoes when you’re inside, wear Christmas clothing, plan to help keep the place tidy, or be polite to one another. You could even suggest that everyone make a pleasant toast before the meal to keep Grinches in a healthy spirit.

Setting ground rules allows you to set the tone of the event you want to have this Christmas. Ground rules allow you to lower anxiety because you’re more in control of the group experience. With ground rules in place, you’re in an authority position that others must respect. 

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Joshua Isaac Smith is a clinical trauma therapist and award-winning coauthor based in London. He can be reached on Instagram @joshua_isaac_smith

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