Out of all the relationships we have in our lives, the ones we share with family members can be the most challenging. And thereâ€™s nothing like holiday stress to trigger the old wounds and unresolved issues that plague so many families. Sharing close, loving, and supportive relationships is a basic human need, yet many of our family relationships fall short of this ideal. Most families have some level of dysfunction, with each member playing his or her part.
Becoming aware of your own family dynamicsâ€”and consciously changing behavior patterns that create conflictâ€”will help you avoid the interpersonal â€œland minesâ€ that are often triggered in the midst of holiday stress. Below are some practical tips to help you make the holidays a time of joyful celebration, instead of fodder for unpleasant family feuds.
Know your limits. While some peoplecan enjoy hours, days, or weeks of extended family get-togethers, othersâ€™ tolerance may only be a couple of hours. Do an honest assessment of the length of time you can comfortably spend with your family without feeling resentful, overwhelmed, or getting hooked into old, unhealthy dynamicsâ€”then stick to that length of time. If you have family relations that are difficult or painful, it may be better to keep the visit brief.
Practice emotional intelligence. Emotional intelligence means exercising self-discipline in the middle of an emotional reaction to make a conscious decision about what kind of action you want to take. Family members can invoke your deepest wounds. If someone says something hurtful, instead of reacting in a way that escalates conflict, you can say, â€œIt may not have been youâ€™re intention, but I found what you said hurtful. Iâ€™d like us to enjoy our time together, so letâ€™s focus on making it a peaceful and pleasant day.â€
Hold a loving focus. If you start to feel judgmental, angry, or upset, ask yourself, â€œWhat kind of inner state do I want to have? Do I want to have a junkyard inside of meâ€”full of anger, sadness, and frustrationâ€”or do I want to have a beautiful garden insideâ€”full of love, peace, and joy?â€ Choosing to stay loving, no matter what, can make the difference between having a pleasant family holiday, or one that depletes, saddens, or angers you.
Avoid provocative topics. Holidays are usually not the best time to rehash old wounds or resolve on-going issues. Keep things light and cordial, and defer discussion of potentially contentious topics to another time. Family events often invoke a myriad of complex human emotionsâ€”which can be intensified by holiday stress or under the influence of alcohol.
Keep expectations realistic. One way we set ourselves up for feelings of disappointment and anger is by having unrealistic expectations of others. Instead of imposing expectations onto family members, accept them for who they are. Remind yourself that everyone is doing the best they can, and that we all have flaws and limitations. This will help to preserve your relationships, and keep you from running expectations that canâ€™t be met.
Avoid â€œshouldingâ€ people. Telling your sibling, parent, or child what they â€œshouldâ€ or â€œshouldnâ€™tâ€ do can provoke defensive reactions. Share your own thoughts without running the assumption that you know whatâ€™s best for the other person. Even if your insight can be helpful, â€œshouldingâ€ on people usually creates resistance.