How to Survive the Holidays with your Dysfunctional Family

Holidays can be a great time to get together and enjoy good food and good company. However, it can also be a stressful, perhaps dreaded time for others. We all have one or more challenging personalities in our family that seem to be able to take what is intended to be a calm, enjoyable celebration and turn into a personal living nightmare. What can we do or not do about this situation? We cannot change people’s personalities, but we can change how we choose to deal with them and  how much power we decide to give them over our emotions.

Here are some tips to help navigate through the holidays with family.

  1. Manage expectations. If Aunt Mary always has a negative comment about how you are living your life entirely wrong, just expect that there will be a criticism coming your way. This way you will not be caught off guard and will feel prepared to handle it.
  2. Find a lifeline. Find another family member to sit with that can offer you emotional support. If no such person exists in your family then have a predetermined person on hand that you can call, text, etc. to remind you that there are “normal” people out there and you are not insane.
  3. Hear but do not listen. This is a good time to develop selective hearing. Though what may be spewed across the dinner table may be audible, try to look at it as a bunch of random words put together and not let it come together to have any meaning.
  4. Do not engage. If Mom is busy telling your brother that “he has thrown away his life with that awful girlfriend of his,” let your brother fend for himself. If you get involved it will likely just fuel the fire and you may then find yourself the next victim.
  5. Escape! Leave the room. Remember the bathroom is for more than just functionality. One way to avoid the dysfunction is to give yourself a much-needed break. Go hide for a bit, take a few deep breaths and rejoin the family with a renewed sense of calm.
  6. Keep your sense of humor. Pretend that this is a family sitcom and see all of those challenging people as characters in the story. Maybe give them personalized names in your head and laugh (on the inside, of course.) Perhaps, you are on your way to writing the next award-winning movie script!
  7. Go to your happy place. Make use of some visualization exercises. Pick a place that you associate with calm, happy feelings. Picture yourself there and use all your senses to vividly recall what it is like there, so you can really experience it and take a much-needed break from your present reality.
  8. Find a task to occupy your time. Offer to do the dishes so you can get out of the room and be unavailable for conversation. Walk the pet hamster if you have to! Anything that takes you out of the equation for a bit.

Hopefully, these tips will help you to have a more peaceful time during the holidays and even better if you find that these tips do not need to be put into play at all. Try to enjoy the people that you can and hopefully you will still be able to embrace the holiday season.

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