The Power of Women

Harness Your Unique Strengths at Home, at Work, and in Your Community

Using Women's Strengths to Survive the Holidays

Surviving the Holidays

In The Power of Women, I detail the exceptional strengths women bring to the workplace, community organizations, family life, and intimate relationships. At no time of the year are these strengths more critical to maintaining your sanity and preserving your relationships than at the holidays! The stress of visiting relatives, multiple parties, choosing gifts and paying for them, even picking out a Christmas tree, can fray nerves and create conflict. How can women's mental, identity, emotional, and relational strengths aid survival during the holidays?


     Families come together during the holidays and that can be wonderful or disastrous. Women's tremendous emotional and relational strengths can transform family discord into family harmony. One of these strengths is perspective-taking - being able to get into the head of another person and see the world from their viewpoint. Our families often do things that seem insensitive or downright stupid during the holidays, and perspective-taking can give us some insight into what's making them so unreasonable. When your father starts on a tirade about your mother buying an expensive prime rib roast for the family dinner, instead of ruminating about his rudeness, you can use the womanly strength of perspective-taking to understand that he might be worried about their retirement income given declines in the stock market. You can also use women's ability to be patient and to manage emotions to keep yourself calm and avoid snapping at him and escalating the conflict. Then later you can approach him to talk about his financial worries. You can also call upon women's strength in expressing emotions to let him know how it makes you and others feel when he yells at your mother.


     One of women's primary mental strengths is seeing many pathways to their goals. Over history, women often have not had social power or control over their own resources so they have learned ingenious ways of going around obstacles and using what they have to accomplish their goals. They have fashioned rich lives for themselves and their families wherever their husband's job landed them or whatever means they have available. During the holidays, especially in this down economy, women and men need to focus on what's really important for them and their families during the holidays and how they can achieve their priorities given their financial constraints. Rather than worrying about the fact that you can't buy expensive electronics for your kids, focus on activities you and they can do together that will make them feel loved and secure, and help them appreciate the true meaning of the holidays, such as caroling at a nursing home, or making homemade gifts for soldiers overseas.


     Another of women's mental strengths is building teams to work together toward goals, rather than trying to do everything on their way and on their own. Instead of feeling you must singlehandedly create the perfect dinner party, or make your house look like it came out of Better Homes and Gardens, enlist the help of your family and friends in the cooking and decorating. You may not get the kudos for the dinner and your house may not land on the cover of BHG, but sharing the load will take a great deal of stress of your shoulders and can be a means of building your relationships.


     Women's identities are solid at the core but flexible in their expression. When you are visiting family during the holidays, they may treat you like you were still the person you were as a teenager, not acknowledging the identity and life you have built for yourself in the years since. This is especially problematic if your interests and values have shifted considerably away from those you had as a youth and that your family still holds (for example, they have always been Republicans and you have become a Democrat). You can stand firm on your core identity - the values by which you live your life and the way you see yourself - but be flexible and judicious in your expression of your identity. So say, during a family holiday dinner, your brother starts spouting views on the Iraq/Afghanistan that clash strongly your own views. You can confidently affirm your point of view then steer the conversation to less volatile topics that the whole family can appreciate, saying something like, "You and I don't agree on this, but we should have this conversation after dinner. Let's talk about what your kids are up to these days."


We can all call upon the strengths of women to make our holidays joyful instead of stressful.

Susan Nolen-Hoeksema was a professor of psychology at Yale University and the author of The Power of Women.

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