5 Tips for dealing with difficult family during the holidays
With the silly season almost upon us, you’re probably planning to host or attend a family gathering.
You should be filled with excitement. But you’re actually filled with dread.
How am I going to deal with Mum’s nagging? What do I do about my uncle’s negative attitude towards everything I do? How do I approach my brother who I haven’t spoken to in months?
Whatever your family scenario, being brought together for the holidays isn’t always ‘the happy family experience’ portrayed in the classic Christmas movies. As George Burns once said, “Happiness is having a large, loving, caring, close-knit family… in another city.”
How do I manage the family drama at Christmas?
Now is the time to create a plan.
As difficult as it might be, try and stay focused on what you can do rather than worry about what might happen.
If you are worried about dealing with a particular family member and/or situation over the holidays, here are 5 suggestions you might wish to consider.
1. Prioritise Self-Care
This time of year can uncover past painful memories and/or challenging family dynamics.
Take some time to consider which person or topics you struggle with or upset you the most.
For challenging family dynamics, set yourself a mantra, such as ‘It’s not about me’ and repeat it. Comfort yourself like you would a young child with words such as, ‘You are not the one at fault. You are loved. You are enough.’ Be prepared to say this to yourself if any harsh words are thrown your way. Try not to take it personally and remember their words are more of a reflection of what’s going on in their own lives.
If you find yourself in a stressful situation, it’s okay to excuse yourself and walk away.
If necessary, set yourself a time limit of how long you’re willing to spend in a specific situation and/or with certain people. Ultimately, if a situation is causing you too much angst, it might be in your best interest to avoid going altogether.
Whatever the situation, being extra kind to yourself in the lead up to family events is crucial. Make sure you are eating and sleeping well, getting plenty of exercise, and relaxing where possible. Try to practise mindfulness as it can really help you to become aware of your emotions in a difficult situation without reacting to them. Overall, if you are healthy and feeling well-rested, stressful situations can be a lot easier to deal with.
2. Deal with the issue before the holidays
Depending on your situation, it might be possible to deal with the lingering dispute or problem prior to the family gathering.
Try reaching out to the key person involved via a phone or face-to-face conversation and try to settle things one-on-one. This could dissolve all tension prior to the group setting. Make sure you’re open to hearing their side of the story and understanding where they are coming from.
However, if the person is unlikely to be civil and you know an intimate interaction will be fruitless, don’t create unnecessary stress for yourself by attempting a reconciliation.
3. Avoid ranting to other family members
While it can be healthy to express your feelings to people you trust, this can backfire if your complaints are about another family member. Your words could make the other person feel awkward or your words could find themselves filtered down to the person you have an issue with.
Most importantly, acknowledge how you feel. If there is a need to talk about your concerns, be a little cautious about who you choose to talk to. You may even consider speaking with someone completely separate from the family and/or situation.
4. Monitor your alcohol intake
It’s important to avoid alcohol consumption as a coping mechanism during the holiday period.
Too much alcohol can heighten your emotions and affect your rational thinking. You might misinterpret words and situations, and find yourself saying things that escalate the conflict. Alcohol can leave you feeling more vulnerable and increases the chances of being triggered by past hurt and/or conflict. As a result, both you and those around you may be left feeling even more uncomfortable, angry, and/or upset.
It’s best to stick to water. You can relax with a glass of wine (or two!) after the family leaves.
5. Keep topics neutral
There’s nothing wrong with talking about the weather. Or local sporting teams. Or about the latest movies.
Sticking to generic topics can be key to avoiding conflict, especially if you know certain topics will create a hostile environment. So try to avoid sensitive topics related to politics, religion, or lifestyle choices.
It’s also a good idea to wait before speaking. If someone says something that rubs you up the wrong way, take a moment to breathe calmly rather than react. As mentioned in Point 1, if you need to remove yourself from a difficult conversation, don’t be afraid to do so. You can remain the bigger person and provide a good example to the younger generation/s around you.
Remember, sometimes frustrating and distressing interactions are going to occur. It all comes down to how you deal with them and allowing time to recover afterwards.
After the challenging holiday period is over, take the time to chill out in the bath, go see a movie, or spend some time relaxing by the beach.
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Kylie Lepri is a registered Psychotherapist, Marriage & Relationship Counsellor, Clinical Supervisor, and Training Consultant. Since 2003 she has helped individuals and couples work through life stressors, develop new goals and create better relationships. Get Kylie’s FREE ebook: 5 Proven Strategies to help manage stress today, by joining her newsletter below.