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Dealing with difficult family during the holidays

By Beverly Flaxington, Career Coach

Guest Blogger

BeverlyFlaxingtonIt doesn’t matter how old we get or how many holidays we celebrate – for some people, family members make our celebration less than enjoyable. Family dynamics that have simmered for years will often rear up at the holidays and join us at the dining table or around the cozy fireplace.

Family issues are particularly hard because of the emotional component associated with them. We have history. We have experience. We have unresolved issues in some cases. So, what’s a person to do in an effort to enjoy the holidays this year?

  • Realize you do have a choice. Yes, it’s very hard to be hurt, angry, or otherwise frustrated by a family member. But remember that we always retain the right to our own response and our own reactions. The family member may do what they’ve always done, but you don’t have to respond in the way you always have in return. Choose this year to break the cycle.
  • Remember that, “This too shall pass.” The holidays are a point in time. Granted they’re loaded with emotional content, but they’re overall very short-lived. Keep your perspective when the difficult person or people start in with whatever it is that upsets you. Use these four words as your mantra. Soon, it will be the end of December, and it'll all be over and you’ll have another year to prepare.
  • Remove yourself from the scene. Sometimes when a family member is particularly hurtful or the bickering becomes unbearable, it’s best to just quietly get up and leave the scene. Walk outside, go into another room, or strike up conversation with another family member. Physically separate yourself from the person who is upsetting to you. 

If you’re able to sing a happy song, remember a fond experience, or focus on something positive while you remove yourself, even better. Try to find ways to give yourself room and bring your attention to something other than the person who’s being difficult for you.

  • Separate fact from fiction. Many of us are taught to believe there’s a “perfect” holiday, a “perfect” family, and the “perfect” gifts being given. Know that all families have their own ways of being together and many times it’s not particularly positive. Don’t set yourself up by thinking there’s something wrong with your family because you don’t have a perfect time in each other’s company.

Prepare yourself in advance by promising to find something good about everyone you interact with, in spite of their actions. In fact, many family members will act out just to get a reaction from you, so prepare yourself. Be ready to laugh at something that historically made you mad. Or compliment someone who seems undeserving of it. It’s helpful here to remember the temporary part. You can find something good for a short period of time about anybody.

Most of all remember that these are your holidays, too. Choose not to let someone else ruin them for you.

Flaxington is author of “Understanding Other People: The Five Secrets to Human Behavior.”

Copyright 2011, Rita R. Robison, Consumer Specialist


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Great post! I really liked your suggestion about remembering it's our choice. It's our choice about how we want to react and about how the holidays will go. We have more control than we give ourselves credit for.

I just wrote a blog post about dealing with difficult family situations during the holidays (my parents are divorced): Hope this helps others.

Zachary Shepherd

Holidays should be spent with togetherness - problems should be set aside. It's that time of the year when everyone should go along with the spirit of giving and happiness. You just need to soak in the atmosphere of the holiday to enjoy it.

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