How to Cope with Difficult Family Members During The Holidays

Unlike the warm and fuzzy holiday commercials that display “perfect family” gatherings, many of us have one or more family members that causes us anxiety, tension, stress, and turns us into monsters or a wreck. So here are some tips to help you stay physically and emotionally healthy, happy, and sane this Christmas, so you don’t get indigestion, migraines, and move to another continent.

Dysfunctional Family is Normal
There’s no such thing as a perfect family. Every family has issues, conflicts, and arguments. That’s normal so don’t compare your family to what does not exist. Even the families that look perfect has issues you probably don’t want to deal with. Your family is more normal than you realize.

Strategize Beforehand
Before you go to the family holiday gathering, prepare yourself physically and emotionally. Get some exercise, meditate, and leave all your expectations at home before you go.

It’s Ok to say No
If you lose it every time and the family gets into an all out war and ugliness beyond imagination, and you have more to lose, you can always say no and not go. It doesn’t make you a bad person, as many may have you believe. Sometimes absence can create peace and fondness. The choice is yours.

Compassionate Approach
You don’t’ have to turn into mother Teresa, but try to see your difficult family members with a compassionate perspective. Perhaps, they are rude, obnoxious, selfish, and never stops talking or drinking, because they are in pain, lack self-esteem, or are lonely. Chalk it up as your good deed of the day to listen to your nagging aunt for a few minutes before you escape. She may be sadder than you know.

Black Sheep & “Different” Ones
Are you the “different” one or the “black sheep” in your family? I have always been and it has always created conflict, pain, and sadness in my family. So, I’ve learned to accept both my difference and my family’s attitude towards me. It’s ok to be different. It is allowed and acceptable. Even if the family doesn’t get it, you do, and it will put your mind at ease during family events. Mentally chill and smile. You are not your parents, brother, uncles, or dead ancestors.

Take Breaks
During the gatherings, I will take breaks and go hang in the bathroom, the yard, the kid’s room, with the dogs, in the car, etc. Breathe, inhale and exhale, count to 10, and remind yourself that you are doing well and give yourself a positive boost and head back with your head up.

It may be unconventional, but when my aunt starts to nag about everything I didn’t achieve, and since my culture does not allow talking back to elders or use violence, I smile and picture her in a Darth Vader outfit or see her dangling over an alligator, and it releases my anxiety and puts a wonderful smile on my face. She thinks she is right and I escape another horrible nag and hold onto my self-esteem. Win Win. Visualization can be a powerful and effective tool and no one has to know except you and you.

One on One
You don’t have to attend the whole family gathering all at once. Pick and choose those family members you like and see them separately for lunch, dinner or a walk, etc.

Don’t Have Any Expectations
Awhile ago, I’ve let go of the expectation that my family should be like the Brady Bunch or the Waltons, etc. It’s not fair to my family or to me. Some family members don’t age with wisdom, humanity, or any manners at all either. Sadly, some people will always stay what they are. So get rid of your expectations, and you’ll avoid disappointments and clashes. Sometimes we impose our expectation of what we think they should be. Forget it. Let it go.

Focus on the Positive
Hang out mostly with the family members you like and is positive, good, and actually enjoy the holidays, rather than the scrooge and the humbugs, who are miserable people. Not only are they negative, but you can get caught up in it yourself. Eek! Kids are always a good bet. Sometimes, I prefer to eat and hang out with them the whole night.

There’s no law that says you have to stay for the whole holiday shebang. If it becomes unbearable and it’s causing you mental and emotional torture, you have the option to leave. Be cordial and exit with a smile for yourself and others, even if they’re yelling at you.

On what you have control over such as your mind, reaction, and kindness.
Be aware of your limitation and tolerance level and you and your family will be more at ease.

Don’t Be Difficult Yourself
Last but not least, try not to be a difficult family member yourself. I know I can be at times and have done plenty of self-assessment, not to mention psychotherapy to make sure I am aware of my behavior, and if and when I am “difficult,” I can catch myself and do damage control for myself and the family. If you’re not sure whether you’re difficult or not, ask a wise and trustworthy family member for some gentle, very gentle, and honest feedback. It’s always good to work on oneself. Lots to learn.

It’s only once or a few times a year and they are family, so try to focus on being grateful. Having seen orphans and people without family of any kind, I consider myself fortunate that I have a family to call my own with a few warts, charm, and love.

Happy Holidays to All Families!