One thing that we all have in common when we start to be a bit honest with ourselves is that families can be fun, loving and amazing units but they can also often be dysfunctional structures too. If you feel like you have a crazy family, you are not alone.
A lot of us do a lot of self-work during the year. We work on understanding ourselves better (often because those of us around us refuse to do the same) and we work on setting boundaries that protect our mental (and sometimes physical health too). But come December & the holiday season, everything starts to pick up speed and the truth is, we can’t control the personalities of the people that we call family.
If you can relate, here are my top 8 therapy backed tips on how to deal with a difficult family over the holiday period:
- Remember - it is not your job to change or fix family members, or to save them. Yes, they might be drinking too much, yes they might be eating excessively and yes, you know you can help them if you just could get them to understand why they are acting a certain way and what is driving that, but the truth is - it is not your job to do this. Sometimes during the holiday period we need to accept that we are going to come into contact with people and behavior that are different to us, and we need to accept this. Understanding this is a transitory period will make the whole period easier.
- Boundaries, boundaries boundaries - you need to be clear of your boundaries before you go into the holiday season and you need to be happy to stick to them (and hold people to the consequences if they don’t respect them). Boundaries need to be set clearly in simple language, said directly to the person in question (not going through someone else) and shared at a calm moment when everyone is able to listen, ideally before the holiday season starts. Maybe it’s telling your Mom that you don’t appreciate her commenting on your weight and you won’t engage in conversations if she does, or you don’t want to spend time with a specific relative. Whatever it is, be clear on what your boundaries are and then communicate them prior to the holiday season commencing. When they are disrespected, be clear in sharing that ‘the boundary that I communicated that is important to me isn’t being respected and if this continues, I’m going to remove myself from the function’
- Be selective with what information you share - just because people are your family doesn’t mean that they get full access into every part of your life. You don’t have to tell people everything, and just because someone asks, doesn’t mean you are obligated to share. Start to get comfortable by saying things like ‘I’d prefer not to talk about that’ and ‘I don’t feel comfortable having that discussion, let’s talk about something else’.
- Avoid hot topics of sensitive subjects if you want to get through the season with no melt downs. Sharing my truth is very important to me but I also know that strong and passionate views on things like politics, religion and money are very divisive. If your views can cause issues within the family, acknowledge that sometimes sharing your truth isn't necessary if the follow on drama is going to be too intense.
- Try to stay in the present - a lot of times during the holiday season we bring up the past (“i can’t believe you used to do this to me”) or we think about the future. Focusing on the present instead can help reduce the likelihood of drama.
- Give yourself permission to leave - if things get too heated, there is no obligation to stay. We always feel obligated, particularly from our childhood, to stay and keep the peace but as adults, we just don’t have to do that.
- Understanding that the people closest to us can have a physical impact on the state of our nervous system can help us understand why things feel so stressful, intense, frantic or horrible when we get triggered. Understanding that we can soothe this state of our nervous system through action called self-soothing means that we can help to calm stressful situations. Work out what self-soothing works best for you and how you can implement it this holiday season,
- And finally, remember, if things are really toxic, you don’t have to show up to anything. Just because ‘family’ is ‘family’ doesn’t mean that you have to be a part of the dysfunction, particularly if it is deeply distressing or upsetting for you.
I hope you have a beautiful holiday season with your family - and if you don’t, you’re not alone. Find a trusted therapist to help you through.
Love Jena x
***THESE STATEMENTS HAVE NOT BEEN APPROVED OR REGULATED BY THE FDA. WE ARE NOT DOCTORS, THEREFORE ALWAYS CONSULT WITH YOUR DOCTOR FIRST.