The holidays are meant to be a time of joy, celebration, and love, demonstrated by countless family get-togethers. But, what about those of us who have challenging family members? You know the ones I’m talking about – the son who sits in another room all night, avoiding the family at all costs; the cousin who never stops complaining about petty things; the uncle who repetitively tells a story you’ve heard a million times before; the grandmother who doesn’t put her drink down all night and picks fights when she’s intoxicated… the list goes on. I have never met someone with a perfect family and, for many people, the holidays bring on additional stress because it means spending time with people who may not be the most healthy for you. When presented with a situation in which you are likely to encounter a challenging family member, you have a choice. Do you want to avoid the situation or endure it?
It seems like the most obvious option here is to avoid the family members that make you want to pull your hair out. However, the people who avoid family functions and get-togethers altogether are putting themselves at risk for increased depression during the holidays, as a result of isolating themselves. So, if you’ve chosen to avoid your family this season, find something else to do to stay connected and find meaning. Perhaps it’s volunteering with a local charity, serving meals at a soup kitchen, or visiting hospice patients with your extra time.
While avoidance may be a relatively easy way to deal with challenging family members, not going to a family event is, frankly, not an option for some. So, what do those people do? They enter the situation and endure the uncomfortable feelings that come up.
Try to use relaxation techniques while you’re with your family – controlled breathing, a brief meditation, or simply being mindful of the present moment (acknowledging the experience without judgment) can go a long way when you’re facing a conflict. Stay busy with activities, like snowball fights, decorating cookies, or playing games to keep people engaged. This reduces the likelihood of conflicts that arise from just sitting around and talking.
Remember, you are not responsible for the behavior of other adults. If someone says or does something that bothers you, acknowledge it, take a deep breath, re-focus on the present moment, and proceed mindfully. Respond with compassion not only for them, but for yourself as well. Use positive self-talk, affirmations, or mantras to stay optimistic throughout the get-together and, remember, you can always choose to leave the situation (for a short break or for the remainder of the event) if a conversation or conflict becomes too overwhelming for you.
However you choose to engage with challenging family members this holiday season, I wish you peace.