Holiday season is upon us and as we gather with loved ones and friends, it is likely there may be some individuals that we have a hard time getting along with. Here are some strategies you can try to help you reduce the stress of dealing with difficult individuals.
1. A few days — or at least a few hours — before the event, make a plan for how you’ll manage any difficult situations if they arise. Consider all the different scenarios that could play out and decide ahead of time the best way to handle each situation. This will prevent you from being caught off guard and reacting in a way you might later regret.
2. Try to not be reactive – remind yourself you are your own awesome human being and you don’t need to respond in kind to negativity. According to a theory developed by psychiatrist Murray Bowen, M.D., differentiation is the ability to separate yourself from your family members so you don’t become emotionally fused with them. Differentiation is a natural part of growing up to a certain extent, but in families in which there’s a lot of emotional conflict, it can be more difficult to see yourself as your own person. This makes it more likely that you’ll become reactive to them. Develop a mantra to remind you that your parents’ problems are not yours and that you’re a person with an awesome life of your own.
3. Observe your emotions without letting them dictate your behavior. Mindfulness allows you to be aware of your emotions in a difficult situation without reacting to them. Instead, observe your anger toward your offensive family member like a casual bystander rather than a combatant. Focus on your breath, taking a few slow, deep inhales and exhales. Notice the emotions, and then send them on their way.
4. Set your expectations – go to your gathering with realistic expectations of your family. Expecting a Hallmark version of a family gathering is unrealistic and will only end in disappointment. In fact, many of your problems with specific family members can be traced to your own expectations. People are who they are; you can’t change them. Realizing this and letting go of some of your standards accordingly will help prevent disappointment and clashes due to unmet expectations.
5. Be compassionate. Seeing people through a compassionate lens can help you better understand them and be less reactive. Your family member who tells offensive jokes, for example. Rather than just labeling them as offensive, have you ever considered why he is the way he is? It’s unlikely he’s doing it just to annoy you.
6. Focus on the positive when things get stressful – a happy memory with your family or some way that they supported you.
Happy Holidays from myself and all the staff at Family Youth Interventions.
Tammy Wagstaff, MA, NCC, ACS, LPC