Holidays are meant to serve pleasant and meaningful purposes; for some, however, holidays result in more distress and pain than joy due to hostile interactions with others. It becomes even more complicated when the person we conflict with is someone we love and therefore have mixed feelings about.
Here are some strategies and ideas regarding conflict with people we see at holiday events:
At all times, but particularly during holidays, we can help set ourselves up physically to meet the demands of our obligations by getting enough quality sleep, exercise, and an appropriate amount of healthy foods. Holidays often include foods that we consider treats, and to deny ourselves those all the time can feel like we are missing out on things that have special meaning to us. Consider enjoying “tastes”—a few bites rather than larger portions. We get to enjoy the taste with less impact on our health.
Similarly, dealing with a stressful exchange is easier when we feel well-rested, well-stretched, and generally good in our bodies.
Refrain from Using Substances
Some people think having a couple of drinks, or getting a little buzz on, will soften the experience of being around a person they would rather not be around. However, substances are a way to avoid rather than cope. The issues are often waiting for us when we finish avoiding, so consider dealing with an uncomfortable situation with everything positive you have to offer.
Many substances, including alcohol, tend to reduce inhibitions. Refraining from using substances increases your likelihood of staying in control and decreases your chances of saying something that could warrant an apology later.
Refrain from Talking About the Person to Other Family
In general, anytime you have the chance to deal directly with someone you have an issue with, there is a better chance of it being resolved amicably. Talking to a family member about a person you have an unresolved issue with, especially if that person is another family member, sometimes poses more trouble than assistance. Some family can be biased, which can come from circumstances such as hearing only your side of the story or having an issue of their own with the person you confided about.
For assistance from an objective party trained to help in these situations, contact a licensed therapist.
Timing is everything. Consider reaching out to the person in advance of the get-together and ask if you can meet and talk in the interest of understanding and healing. If the person is willing to talk, begin by listening with empathy.
Address Issues Before the Holiday
Do you owe someone a mea culpa? Is there something you wish you could resolve with a family member you will see at holidays? Meeting with a person you clash with, especially if done in the spirit of emotional connection, can go a long way in mending fences.
Timing is everything. Consider reaching out to the person in advance of the get-together and ask if you can meet and talk in the interest of understanding and healing. If the person is willing to talk, begin by listening with empathy. Try to see where they are coming from, not where you wish they were coming from. If you can convey that you heard and understand them, even if you disagree with them, you demonstrate that their feelings and what they have to say matter to you.
Keep Conversation Topics Neutral
If conversation at holidays invariably veers into hostile exchanges, and talking directly about it outside of the holiday event is not an option, stick to talking about the weather or other neutral topics. What are things you tend to agree on or at least don’t actively argue about? Resist any baiting to engage in hostile conflict. If the best you can do in the moment is excuse yourself, you may yield more respect from others and yourself than you would “getting into it” at a gathering meant to increase a sense of connection and love.
While we cannot control others, we can control our own behavior and influence the outcome of our interactions. Before walking in the door of a get-together where you anticipate seeing someone with whom you may have a difficult exchange, ask yourself what you want the outcome to be, what you can do to positively contribute to that outcome, and what parts may be best for you to let go of. Saying hurtful things is not justified by someone else saying hurtful things to you. At the same time, everyone is entitled to being treated with dignity, and it is acceptable to require respectful communication of yourself and others.
Holidays serve as opportunities to celebrate our connection with the people we love. When holiday activities include someone we hold negative feelings about, we get to choose how we will conduct ourselves, and model for younger family members how to behave in tense situations. Remember who you are, and remember to relax and enjoy the people you have the good fortune to spend holidays with.
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