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How to deal with family during the holidays

Updated: Nov 22, 2023

Not all families we can get along with. Most of us have seen the film Home Alone with 8-year old Kevin McCallister struggling to get along with his family during the holidays and wishes that his whole family disappear and then coincidentally is left home alone accidentally while the family leaves for their Christmas vacation. His mother eventually realizes they forgot Kevin and does everything to return back home to her 8 year old son. Well our life might not be like the McCallister's where we skip one family holiday trip only to reunite and realize how much we need our eachother and in a sense sweep under the rug all the chaos that happened prior. Families can be challenging especially during the holidays. You might be dreading seeing some family members during this holiday and that is probably valid. Maybe you have noticed gaslighting behavior, manipulation, dishonesty, ridiculing, or gossiping and you don't want to partake in it during the 2023 holidays.

family conflict holidays

Here are some tips to help you deal with family during the holidays.

  1. Recognize that you cannot change your family. Most of your family members are probably set in their ways. Your mother, father, uncle, aunt, sister, brother, cousin, or grandparent are unlikely to apologize for some of the hurt they caused. As soon as you recognize that your family members aren't going to change because you want them to, then you will be in a better position to cope.

  2. Stop trying to make your family understand your point of view by trying to explain it to them. You probably have these reasons memorized and ready to convey to your family, but it can sometimes make you feel more angry, frustrated, or anxious to explain to your family and they just don't seem to understand. By accepting your family members as they are, you can reduce resentment and frustration.

  3. Not all things need to be said. You don't have to tell your family everything you are thinking or feeling. Why? You might not be understood or listened to by your family. It's important to step back and ask yourself "will they listen to what I'm saying and make an effort to understand my perspective?" If the answer is no why would you give additional energy to this? The more energy you give the higher chance of friction.

  4. Acknowledging that you might never get an apology. Having a family that won't accept accountability or correct their ways hurts. This could also be that they may recognize they have hurt you but are unwilling to apologize. In the event that you did or said something wrong, you could apologize, but you would have to accept that they might not apologize. Just because it's the holiday season, don't expect an apology.

  5. Set boundaries with family members. You can respectfully set boundaries with your family and have things turn out fine. Learning to say no could be a key to establishing boundaries with your family. There is no need to agree to every request your family member makes. Another boundary could be that you don't have to answer personal questions or disclose more information than you feel comfortable doing so. Your family doesn't need to know how much money youre making at your new job, they don't need to know why you and your partner broke up, why you don't have children yet, and they don't need to know why you aren't speaking to certain people. As well, you can set boundaries so that body shaming is not tolerated. You don't need to justify to your family how much you are choosing to eat during a family holiday dinner. It's the holidays and your body. You can eat how little or how much you want without having to worry if aunt, Betty is going to make a negative remark about your body.

  6. Keep the conversations short and sweet. Just because it's the holidays doesn't mean you have to engage in lengthy conversations with every family member that shows up this holiday season. You can greet people and have short but polite conversations with them. It might help to look at it as a work holiday social. You're friendly enough while still maintaining professional boundaries.

  7. Stay away from emotionally abusive family members. Even though we mentioned keeping conversations short and sweet, there are some family members who are flat-out toxic. These unhealthy family members can harm your mental health, so it might be wise to avoid them. You can greet people in the room and avoid people that treat you poorly.

  8. Remind yourself that you can break generational trauma. This madness did not start with you. In fact, it has been passed down through multiple generations in your family. The issue is that some families normalize dysfunctional and abusive behavior because that's all they know. You might have heard statements such as "your cousin, Christian has always been that way just ignore him" or "your mom can say things she doesn't mean when she's mad, but don't let it get to you." Another thing families might do is put pressure on you to fix the situation so that everything goes back to the way things were for them (homeostasis). That can look like saying "if you apologize to your dad he will calm down and this will all go away." You don't have to agree with the family's requests or agree with the solutions that they offer.

  9. You can keep visiting your family short. If you experience anxiety about seeing your family during the holidays you can keep your visit short. Maybe only visit for an hour or two. This can be tricky if you're visiting or staying with family that live pretty far but you can excuse yourself. If you are having family visit you in your home maybe give yourself breaks from them and that can consist of going outside or to your room for a breather. Excusing yourself for a break is okay.

  10. You don't spend the holidays with your family. It's probably not the tip you were expecting, but you don't have to spend the holidays with your family if being around them negatively impacts your mental health. Spending the holidays with a friend and their family, alone, or with other relatives that you feel more comfortable with instead of your immediate family could be an option. Making this decision is not easy. There might be feelings of guilt or fear of being alone, but if spending holidays alone makes you feel angry, frustrated, anxious, or sad, why put yourself through that if it impacts your mental health?

  11. You have more power than you realize. Families are assigned to you; however, you get to choose your friends and your partner. Holidays are all about choosing who you spend them with and who you let into your life. During the holidays, you can choose who you spend time with. It is easy to feel worthless and powerless when we are around people who treat us poorly, but we are capable of making our own choices.

It can be difficult to spend time with family during the holidays, but there are options

While being around family isn't always easy, particularly during this holiday season, you are in control of who you choose to interact with and what you do. Families who share our DNA do not all deserve access to our lives. You don't have to accommodate people who make you feel unwanted or less than. During the holiday season, you can surround yourself with people who make you feel good about yourself. When you don't engage with family during the holiday season, it might feel different or lonely. You might feel like you're missing out on all the fun, but if being with them negatively impacts your mental health and they can't respect boundaries, it might be better for you to spend the holiday with others.

family dinner holidays

Setting boundaries with your family, especially during the holiday season, can also be discussed with a therapist in Campbell,CA. The issues with your family were there before the holiday season and part of the reason why you might experience anxiety about seeing your family during the holidays is that you might feel obligated to attend the holiday celebration or fear being alone during the holidays. Your fears are valid, no matter what they are. It is possible to heal from family stress and generational trauma with the help of a licensed marriage and family therapist. Therapists understand that families can be difficult during the holidays and family stress doesn't end just because Santa Clause is coming to town.

This is your year to start setting boundaries, accepting your family, and seeing your own power. Holidays aren't always warm and inviting like Lifetime movies. It is also possible to feel anxious, stressed, and emotionally drained during the holidays. Even if the 2023 holidays seem scary due to hardships you've experienced, you'll get through it. This too shall pass and on the other side of fear and stress you will discover your inner voice, strength, and perseverance.

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