Family Relationships

Navigating Holidays With Difficult People

The holidays are a time for families to get together, but that sometimes means more drama than warmth and fun. Whether your family is divided politically, has critical relatives, or experiences other issues, the holidays can be tricky. That said, difficult family dynamics don’t have to spoil your Christmas.


Plan Ahead


Strategize before the family arrives. Decide where everyone will sit, which conversations are off-limits, and the best way to reply to certain statements or questions. Determine some exit plans to use if a relative upsets you. Excuse yourself to go to the bathroom, offer to “check something in the kitchen,” or say you need fresh air.


Use a Security Blanket


No, we don’t mean a literal blanket. Find a small token that reminds you to keep your serenity when those around you can’t. Try a worry stone, a cross or rosary, a laminated prayer, or something similar. As tensions rise, squeeze it and remind yourself: “I can rise above this situation.” Use positive affirmations like, “I am getting through this. I am strong.” Say, “It’s Not About Me.”


Obviously, it feels like the situation is about you when your skinny cousin makes another weight comment or your mother-in-law asks, again, when you and your newlywed spouse are going to have kids. These barbs are often not about the person at whom they are aimed; rather, they reflect the speaker’s own insecurities, frustration, or sadness. Use planned responses, excuse yourself, or gently but firmly say, “I’d like to talk about something else.”


Let Yourself Recover


After a stressful gathering, give yourself permission to retreat to your bedroom or another calm place. Read, meditate, listen to soft music – do whatever you need to calm down and reorient yourself.

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