Skip to main content

’Tis the Season to Cope with Family

Nov 14, 2016 10:47AM ● By News Desk

The holidays are supposed to be a time for family gatherings filled with love, laughter and good cheer. But what if your own family dynamics are less than ideal? What happens when assembling the clan under the same roof is too close for comfort? For some, holiday gatherings can be anxiety-provoking, filling one with mixed emotions of fear and dread.

We all have difficult family members. The morose aunt who can put a damper on any celebration. The embarrassing, loud, obnoxious cousin. The smug, superior sibling. The disapproving, judgmental in law.

Often, our provocateurs know us well. They have studied us, probed our insecurities, familiarized with our trigger issues. Then, there are the insensitive and self-absorbed. The relative who, regardless of how well or long you’ve known them, seems clueless how their careless words and behavior affect others. They are the blundering oblivious, prone to stomping on feelings. You can identity this variety of problem relation by their standard response: Was it something I said? This offender tends to partner up with the apologist relative: Yes, Uncle Carl said you always pick losers for husbands, but he meant that in a loving way. Whether our family nemesis works solo or in tandem, we are in the crosshairs.

How can we turn this situation around?

Whichever variety of difficult relation you struggle with, they can hijack your holiday and make you feel stressed in your own home — and will, if you let them. Although you can’t control them, you can learn to disarm them, and redirect an unpleasant situation before trouble starts, allowing for happier times, and quite possibly, setting a new tone for holiday seasons to come. Consider the following tips to better understand and cope with problem kin.

Do not expect the difficult person to change. Problem people are who they are. You cannot change them. You can, however, change your reaction to them. Be the bigger person, be gracious. Treat everyone with respect, especially the family member you find most disagreeable. Setting aside personal differences so that everyone can enjoy the holiday together will be a welcome, appreciated sign of maturity and strength on your part. As the American humorist Mark Twain advised: “Do the right thing. It will gratify some people and astonish the rest.”

Prepare. Decide in advance how you will address or deflect insults from the family offender. When Uncle John loudly comments on how much weight you’ve gained, smile and say, “I’m comfortable with how I look.” Self-acceptance and confidence are powerful weapons against bullies. Maintaining composure and sense humor also build resilience.

Know your boundaries and enforce them. Setting boundaries is key to healthy self-esteem. To create effective boundaries, take an honest look at what you will and will not accept in your space. Being aware of what makes you uncomfortable is the first step to creating a healthy boundary. However, expect difficult people to test your boundaries. They won’t give up easily. But, if they see you mean business, most eventually will back off and move on. If the bully refuses to respect your boundary and won’t walk away, you can. Don’t be a hostage. It is perfectly healthy to remove yourself from a toxic situation.

Finally, take personal inventory. Make sure that you aren’t the bane of a relative’s existence. If you suspect you are the difficult relation at the family gathering, make a few adjustments and promise yourself you will give your best this year.

Once you’ve done the prep work for dealing with problem family members, don’t forget to enjoy your holiday. Know that you’ve done everything you need to survive the family holiday gathering.

Photo © Copyrights:
Universal/Everett/REX - Meet The Fockers
Warner Bros. - National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation