"Mean People Suck" : Bumper Sticker Wisdom & How it Applies to The Holidays
By Laura Hull, LMFT
I remember driving down the road a few years ago, coming to a stop light behind a car that bore the bumper sticker that read “Mean People Suck.” I remember thinking “wow, I hope my kids can’t read that…how crude!” My secondary thought was “wow, that’s just so true. Mean people really do suck.” Though I probably would have chosen a less direct, less crude phrasing such as “Mean People Are An Unfortunate, Unpleasant Reality We Must Deal With.” I guess I could never make a living coming up with clever bumper stickers, but I can make a compelling blog argument for why mean people really do suck and you aren’t required to be around them just because it’s the holiday season.
In a perfect world, everyone would get along nicely, and treat each other with respect. But inevitably, we run across those people in our social circles, sometimes in our own gene pool, who are deeply miserable and seem to lack the capacity to be pleasant, civil or at least neutral. If they are co-workers, at least we get relief from them by the workday ending. But if we are related to those people, it can feel like a sentence in purgatory to have to bless a turkey around a table with people whose tongues work like knives carving through your soul (or at least your self-esteem). Inevitably, the holidays guilt trip many into dealing with relatives they’d just as soon forget they have a genetic relation to.
Poor family dynamics can create enormous amounts of stress. It seems like the holidays, in some cases, are the calendar’s ways of insuring that life will not remain peaceful for a solid 12 months. Even in the best of family relations, the holidays are stressful…. exciting, but stressful. There’s so much to do, money may be flying out the windows, and expectations for the season are high. There’s the societal expectation that the holidays should be the “most wonderful time of the year.” If your holiday gatherings go off without a hitch every year like the Cleaver’s, well, God bless you. If your holidays tend to resemble the chaos of the Griswold’s, well, this blog is for you.
If you are one of those people who are stressed out at the thought of spending the holidays with family and/or friends because of the unpleasant people who will be there, and you are drawing upon past unpleasant interactions at the holidays which seem to solidify the likelihood that the holidays interactions will go poorly, consider this your permission slip to skip. Mean people do suck, and so do manipulative people and so do conniving people and you are not required to subject yourself to them just because of a date on a calendar. Mean people take pleasure in robbing others of their joy. They have to tear down other people’s feelings and their self-esteem in order to feel good. Sometimes these people are just incapable of experiencing real joy and can’t stand to see it in others. Some people are just so miserable in their own lives that they just don’t realize how unpleasant they are to be around. Whether their actions are deliberate or not, it doesn’t change how unpleasant they can make things for the people they interact with. Tempted to kill them with kindness in order to change the dynamics? Sometimes that works. But often it does nothing to change the course of that sinking ship. Skip the stress. There’s no Bible verse that requires you to eat turkey twice a year with people who can’t get along.
I highly advise anyone to not go into any situation where the probability is high that someone will lose his/her temper in an abusive way, someone will end up in tears, voices will be raised in anger, someone’s confidence/self esteem takes a hit and hurtful words will be exchanged. Family or not, this isn’t good for anyone. If you are finding yourself anxious or stressed out because of the holidays, ask yourself this question: “Are the people who will be surrounding me this holiday season making me happy or adding to my stress/unhappiness?”
Here’s a great truth: We teach people how to treat us. If we put ourselves into situations that are unhealthy, without ever challenging those dynamics, we are in essence saying it is ok. We are not required to interact with an unpleasant relative. It is perfectly ok to tell a relative “it would be nice to include all family members in the celebrations this time of year. However, the dynamics change when you are present. Because we want this to be an enjoyable gathering, we will be unable to include you unless you can agree to….” And fill in the blank. Will that person likely be offended? Oh yeah. And in protest will likely declare you to be many unpleasant adjectives and nouns. And you will have a better holiday. Maybe the next year, after basting alone for a year, the unruly turkey…uh, I mean relative/friend, will humbly return to the fold. If not, that’s ok too.
Life’s too short to spend with people who are unpleasant and seem intent on spreading their misery to others. You don’t have to do it. You really don’t. This really is a wonderful time of year….at least it can be…and should be. Surround yourself with people who are loving, encouraging, and uplifting. Surround yourself with people who are Godly people, and not just in name only. Don’t allow yourself to be guilt tripped into losing the joy of the season. It’s easier to be thankful on Thanksgiving when you are surrounded by people who remind you through their positive effects on your life, exactly what and who you have to be thankful for this time of year.