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  • How to Deal with Family Drama Around the Holidays

    Ugh. Family Holiday Drama. Is yours more like the movie Four Christmases? or It’s a Wonderful Life?

    For some of us, spending time with family during the holidays is something straight out of a Hallmark movie with days filled with comfort and joy. But for others, the holidays with family are filled with stress and anxiety.

     From the stress of traveling to the pressure of buying and wrapping gifts, and the fact that many family members can’t be in the same room with each other without a fight erupting, holidays can be stressful!

    While you can’t necessarily stop family drama from occurring, there are some simple and effective ways you can deal with it:

    Have Realistic Expectations

    So much of the pain of the holidays comes from having unrealistic expectations. Don’t set yourself up for disappointment. Acknowledge beforehand that you and your family are human and that there may be those moments that aren’t very pleasant and that’s okay. Life and families are messy.

    Keep it Light

    Think of “difficult” family members as people you may not want to be especially close to. Keep conversations light and surface oriented in many ways so as to not become too attached. You can have a few topics in mind that are not high conflict and keep interactions easy such as learning to grow a garden, improving your sleep habits, training your dog, etc..

    Think of the Role and Not the Person

    For those of you with stepfamilies, in-laws and other family members that you may find more challenging, think of the person you dislike interacting with as just their role, aka mother in law, sister in law, stepmother, etc without the attachment to them specifically. Keeping a focus on the role and not the person can help create a degree of psychological separation.

    Set Your Boundaries

    Time spent with families over the holidays can also trigger us to feel like children all over again, essentially helpless. But you are an adult now and you are not helpless. You can set those boundaries to protect your mental health.

    Determine before you go what you will tolerate and what you won’t. This can be for simple things like meal times and sleeping accommodations to what topics of discussion you will engage in. Be sure to share your personal limits with all involved where appropriate. For some, boundaries involve some degree of estrangement. Do what you need to in order to be ok with yourself and promote your wellbeing.

    Use Good Judgement

    When the holiday drama sets in, it’s easy to want to drink more or eat more processed foods. Do your best to not overindulge. The only person you can control is yourself.

    Have an Exit Strategy

    It may become necessary for you to leave the family holiday gathering. Perhaps you feel ganged up on, your boundaries have not been respected, or a family member was rude to you. Think of an exit strategy ahead of time so that you will not be surprised if you need to leave.

    Practicing Mindfulness

    Mindfulness is key to being present with your emotions. Observe and notice without judgement. If you notice you are beginning to feel elevated, angry, etc…take a time out and get out of the setting you are in. It may be time to take a break for air or leave if you are too triggered or emotionally flooded.

    Most importantly, don’t allow yourself to be baited into an argument or any other interaction you are not in full support of.

    Family dynamics are present in every family. Some families have more conflict, disagreement, and overall issues than others. We cannot pick our families. We can, however, pick how we choose to be treated and the ways in which we will interact with family.

    If you’re interested in gaining support with your individual family dynamics and are interested in starting therapy, please reach out to me.