How to Deal with your (Difficult) Family this Holiday Season

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The holiday season is a time of joy and togetherness but it can also come with increased stress, conflict and family tension. When families gather, members may not get along, causing tension and awkward interactions. One option is to avoid holiday gatherings altogether. However, this too can create conflict in the family. If you are anticipating a potentially difficult holiday gathering this year, here are some ways to improve your coping strategies and successfully navigate your family this holiday season.

  • Be sensitive to needs for private space. Having visitors and a full house during the holiday season is common. Privacy invasions are likely to provoke conflict (and can be particularly stressful for adolescents in the family). It is therefore important for family members to be aware of and sensitive to other’s need for privacy and space. Recognizing this ahead of time and discussing this with visitors can help avoid triggering events that can lead to uncomfortable conflicts.
  • Set differences aside for the holidays. During the holidays, it is common for families with children to visit with grandparents and older family members. This unique blend of personalities can sometimes lead to conflict or disagreement. Try focusing on the things that you have in common and make a commitment to yourself to “agree to disagree.”
  • Try out new positive patterns of interaction. When families that live apart get together for the holidays, old patterns and tensions are likely to re-emerge, triggering old wounds and memories of unresolved conflicts. Instead of automatically repeating the way in which we engage in conflict with our family (which is what they are expecting), try out new positive behaviors such as direct communication, being assertive, and using creative problem-solving.
  • Create new family rituals. Holidays can be particularly stressful for blended families. While these times can trigger memories of previous family holidays and a sense of loss, they can also provide a time for blended families to create new rituals and increase the “feeling like a family” sentiment.
  • Acknowledge your own needs and limitations. During these peak stressful times, it’s important to acknowledge your own feelings, especially if someone close to the family has recently died or cannot be with you. Realize that it’s normal to feel sadness and grief. Reach out to others for help, especially if you are feeling overwhelmed, sad, or lost.

This holiday take time to observe the difficult interactions that occur, as well as your emotional, physical, and mental reactions. Talking to a therapist about these observations will help you understand more about yourself, and learn new strategies to communicate more effectively. Finally, be sure to take extra good care of yourself when around your family. Give yourself permission to take a break, treat yourself to a massage, or spend time with those who make you smile.

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