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Coping With Difficult Relatives During The Holidays

Nov 16, 2015 07:46PM ● Published by Face Editor

For most people the holiday season is a time for family gatherings filled with love, laughter and good cheer. However, for some, just the thought of spending time with difficult or challenging family members can lead to emotions of fear and dread.  

We all have difficult people in our lives. You know the ones—they put a damper on almost any celebration. They’re loud, disrespectful, condescending, pampas or flat out mean.    They’re the ones that make you feel awkward and stressed in your own house—if you let them.

Consider these tips to help understand and cope with that difficult family member. You may not be able to control them, but you may be able to direct the situation in a more pleasant manner allowing for happier times and quite possibly setting the tone for holiday seasons to come.

Don’t expect others to change.  Though you could analyze difficult people, and the insight might prove interesting, the fact is, they are who they are and you cannot change them. You can, however, change the way you react to them. Putting aside personal differences to make the holidays bearable is a sign of maturity and strength. Vow to treat everyone with respect. It’s a good idea to take a personal inventory to make sure you aren’t someone else’s difficult person. If in all honesty you suspect you are, make a few adjustments and promise yourself you will give your best this year.

Prepare. It is crucial when facing difficult people to be compassionately aware of your own vulnerabilities. Knowing and owning them gives you the opportunity to decide how you want to address or deflect intentional insults. Difficult people often hone in on a person’s vulnerability and go in for the kill instinctively. When your uncle comments (loudly) on how much weight you’ve gained, you can smile and say, “I’m comfortable with the way I look.”

Self-awareness, self-acceptance and confidence are the strongest weapons against bullies.

Identify Boundary Issues.  In the best relationships and especially in the most difficult, boundaries are the key to a sense of personal well-being. In order to create effective boundaries, you must first take an honest look at what you will and will not accept in your space. Being fully aware of what makes you uncomfortable will help to establish a healthy boundary.

Establish Boundaries. For the week leading up to your holiday gathering, take a few minutes each day to make a list of difficult relatives and situations that are reoccurring. Setting a boundary with them may be hard for you to execute but will be worth it. Write down boundary statements and practice them aloud. For example, you may have an aunt who bad mouths other relatives to you. You can try saying, “I don’t want to talk about this so can we change the subject?” or “These things don’t concern me but I would love to know what you’ve been doing since I’ve seen you last.” If she refuses to respect your boundary, you can walk away. At first, difficult people will resist boundaries, but with persistence, they will eventually realize you mean business and likely move on to someone else.

Trust Yourself. You may not feel confident addressing uneasy situations or an unpleasant person—that’s okay, just listen and trust your gut. If you are uncomfortable, it’s likely someone is crossing a boundary with you. It is perfectly healthy to take care of yourself by setting a boundary or removing yourself from a situation.

Once you have done the prep work for dealing with challenging people and situations, don’t forget to relax! Know that you have everything you need to survive your family holiday gathering and truly enjoy yourself.

You’ve got this! Happy Holidays!

Family, Acadiana Life
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November / December Holiday Issue 2017