Christmas Time Triggers: Being Responsive Instead of Reactive

Christmas. A wonderful time of celebration for Christians and many others who desire to connect with loved ones and support one another as we head into a new year. But sometimes the simple process of ‘getting together’ can be stressful at best and seriously debilitating at worst.

Let’s start at the beginning…

The reality is that we (and I mean all of us) are capable of being influenced by negative triggers… and we are all equally capable of being the person who sends out the trigger. No one is immune to this as we all attempt to try and be helpful, caring, interested, supportive and loving. We just get it a bit messed up sometimes.

Disclaimer: this post is written from recent personal experience where I felt God show me how not only my words but my thoughts about a loved one, were influencing the health of our relationship. It wasn’t fun, but I believe I learned a very valuable lesson.

Before we launch into what to do if you are facing a predictable scenario of questions, comments and attitudes that set you off every year, we need to take stock of our own hearts and attitudes first.

The best way I can explain this is that if I am going to set boundaries on the relationships I have, I need to first check my heart against God’s values about relationship. He says don’t judge. And judgement, at least for me, is something that I can easily convince myself I am immune to. Until I realise I have hurt a loved one by being careless with my words or actions.

Therefore, taking a bit of time to chat with God about what’s happening in my heart, seeking forgiveness for the things he shows me, and forgiving myself and the other parties involved is the first step in having a more enjoyable Christmas season.

Manage the predictable

How do we manage the predictable triggers that arise at this time of year? We usually know who is going to say what, how it’s going to play out and how we have felt in the past.

So before the trigger-prone event take a few moments to sit with God and let go of the past experiences that have created the anxiety surrounding the event. Here is one way to get the ball rolling:

  1. Write a list of things you know are red button topics, things that are likely to trigger your emotions.
  2. Share your feelings with God about these topics – recognise how you feel and hand it over, ignoring the emotional state you’re in.
  3. Forgive, seek forgiveness and let go of the past experiences that are bringing these triggers to the surface.
  4. Make sure to include forgiving yourself for holding on to these things too.
  5. Write down and practice some verbal responses to common questions or comments made by others.

Practice being responsive and not reactive

When you are ‘in the moment’ with the person and they say something that you feel triggered on, try this:

  1. Breathe! Count to 5 slowly before you speak.
  2. Remind yourself to take your time to respond.
  3. Try to respond with an even-toned voice, using anti-inflammatory statements and neutral body language.

Remember that you get to choose how you respond, when you respond and if you respond.

Some polite verbal responses:

‘Thank you.’

‘Thanks, I appreciate your concerns.’

‘Thanks for bringing that to my attention.’

‘Thank you for sharing that with me.’

‘I’ll consider what you’ve said.’

‘I appreciate your point of view.’

‘Let me think about it.’

‘I will get back to you when I’ve had time to think about it.’

‘Sorry, I won’t be able to do that.’

‘Sorry, I don’t want to discuss this topic.’

‘I’m not ready to discuss this yet.’

‘I’m not ready to discuss this.’

‘Your point is appreciated.’

You can use any of these responses in a number of scenarios. The big key to them is that they are intentionally anti-inflammatory, intentionally showing appreciation for the other person’s thoughts, enquiry or instructions regardless of how thoughtless or provoking they may be.

The really cool thing here is that by responding in a non-confrontational manner and acknowledging their query or statement, you don’t have to take it further than this. You are not obligated to share further with them. Even if they don’t like it!

What if someone keeps pushing?

Some people don’t get the message right away. They feel entitled to knowing information about you and if you’ve provided this freely in the past, they may be taken aback that you are not giving it to them now.

To begin with, remember these things:

  • You do not have to explain yourself to anyone unless you want to and feel safe to do so.
  • You do not have to share what you’ve been doing, or how well you are, or what medication or therapies you might be taking/ using or what your love life is currently like.
  • You do not have to discuss your recent change of relationship, job status or health/ medical condition.

These are your personal life situations and experiences and well-meaning family and friends, despite their desire to support you, do not have a ‘right’ to know this information.

Remember: Your choice. Your health. Your wellbeing.

Some assertive responses to pushy inquisitors:

Point: Refrain from saying ‘with you’ as part of your response. It can come across as a personal attack on that person which just worsens the problem.

‘Thank you for your concern but I am not comfortable with sharing at the moment.’

‘I really appreciate your concern and your enquiry about my health/ job/ relationship/ etc. I am not discussing these things at the moment.’

‘I am practising some new self-care strategies and part of this is choosing not to share personal information unless I feel it’s necessary.’

Always try to refrain from using words that might inflame the other person. Mostly they are just trying to be supportive and in the long run, as you set strong boundaries, they will get the message and adjust their behaviour accordingly. If they don’t then it is proof that setting strong boundaries with them was the right choice.

When you feel comfortable to share about your personal life, your challenges or your fears, you will know. But it must be when you feel ready to do so.

I hope that as you move into the next few weeks of parties, workplace wind downs and family Christmas antics, you will feel more prepared and at peace in your heart and mind.




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