3 Tips for Handling Difficult Family Members During the Holidays

Gathering of family members celebrating a holiday with sparklersFor many, the holidays are a joyous time to celebrate our traditions, spread cheer, and love on those we care about. For others, however, the holidays bring up a lot of negative emotions. Some even dread the holidays.

Below are three tips for dealing with difficult family members.

3 Tips for Dealing with Difficult Family Members

1. Establish Boundaries Before the Holiday

If being around certain family members brings up negative emotions for you, one idea to consider is time spent with them. Think about how much time you want to spend with them during the holiday. For instance, it’s okay to put some time restraints in place. Instead of spending the entire day, you might consider spending a couple hours together. If you are traveling across the country, staying in a hotel or an Airbnb might be a better option than staying in your family member’s home.

You may want to think about an exit strategy from certain conversations.

You may want to think about an exit strategy from certain conversations. For example, if you feel like your family member is starting to get on your nerves, you might say something like, “I think I may go see if some help is needed in the kitchen.” This gives you a polite way of ending the conversation.

2. Steer Away from Touchy Topics

One of the wonderful things about the world is how diverse it is. Imagine for a moment, if everyone thought the same way, looked the same way, or acted the same way⁠—how boring the world would be? Keep in mind that many families have differences of opinions, beliefs, and faith traditions. If you are aware of your differences and know that conversations around those topics can quickly escalate, you may want to steer clear of those topics. For instance, if you have a more liberal bent politically and your parents are conservative, perhaps talking about if the president will win a re-election isn’t the best party starter. You may consider sticking to more to neutral topics. ⁠

3. Let Bygones Be Bygones

Many people struggle to let go of the past, especially when it comes to family members. If you find you fall into this camp, consider doing something different this year. For instance, if a family member has offended you and you are holding on to the hurt, think about letting it go. It could make all the difference in your holiday season.

What many people don’t realize is that holding on to grudges, resentment, and hurt feelings takes a lot of emotional energy. It impacts your mental health and well-being. Letting go of the hurt doesn’t mean you don’t do or say anything about it. What it means is that you are choosing to do something about it. In so doing, you are empowering yourself. Perhaps talking to a therapist or a trusted friend about it could be helpful.

You don’t have control over what people say or how they behave. However, you can take responsibility for how you respond to being offended. If it warrants a conversation, think about reaching out to your family member prior to the holiday and asking if you can talk to them. A simple conversation might look like: “There is something that has been on my mind that I would like to talk to you about. When would be a good time?” If they agree, set up a time to talk. It’s quite possible you can have a healing conversation, if done well. It could prove to be a life changing conversation for your relationship.

Of course, not all past offenses are so easy to resolve, and having a healthy conversation may not even be possible. If that’s the case, you still have a choice in how you will let their offense influence you. You can still choose to let the offense go, understanding that it may be about the other person and not you. You can also choose to forgive the person even when it feels like an unforgivable offense. You get to decide how you want to respond.

You have more control over your holidays and difficult family members than you may think. Decide today what type of holiday you want to experience. You may consider politely asking everyone in your family to be patient, kind, and loving. Keep the focus on your reason for celebrating this holiday season.

© Copyright 2019 GoodTherapy.org. All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Angela Bisignano, PhD

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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