Dealing with difficult family at Christmas


Families can be a hotbed for resentments and difficult dynamics. Here’s 12 seasonal suggestions to help you weather any festive family snowstorm

1. Limit the time you are going to be there

It’s not natural for the whole family to be under the same roof from Christmas Eve until the New Year. Think carefully about how much time you would actually like to spend with them rather than how much time you feel you ought to. As soon as you start doing things because you ought to you may feel trapped and resentful.

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2. Have plans outside the family

Make dates for over the Christmas period. It is often a good time to meet matches because people usually have some time off work and everywhere is very romantic with all the Christmas decorations around.

3. Avoid drinking too much

It’s not called the demon drink for nothing. Alcohol is the fuel for most family rows as inhibitions are loosened and people say all those things they’ve always wanted to say. People often drink too much to numb painful feelings but more often than not alcohol acts like a magnifying glass making everything bigger and worse than it was before.

4. Remember you can only control your own behaviour, no-one else’s

As tempting as it can be to try and control other people – especially if you can see exactly what needs to be done in order to keep the peace – the only person you really have any control over is yourself.

5. Change the script

Families often have patterns that are repeated every time they come together – there are roles such as the comedian, the victim, the hero, the black sheep etc. Without even realising it we are often drawn back into our old role. The good news is we don’t have to be. We can change the script just by being aware of what our old role was and acting differently.

6. Do something different

It doesn’t have to be anything monumental. Something simple like leaving a room when you feel uncomfortable; phoning a friend if you need to connect with someone outside the family or looking for the positive in everyone can completely change the family dynamic and make you feel more in control.

7. Give what you can – no more

A lot of family stress builds up because we give far more than we actually have available. This is true for time, money and energy. If you have broken the bank to buy presents you can’t afford, for people who don’t appear very appreciative that is a volcano waiting to erupt. The same is true of time and energy. There are no prizes for being a martyr and burning yourself out to put on the perfect spread. Often the pressure we experience is self-imposed, our family just want to see us, happy and relaxed.

8. Reflections

Laugh, smile, and tell a joke. If you go into Christmas dreading it the chances are it will be dreadful. Go in with a light, bright attitude and a genuine wish to make the best of the time with your family and you are much more likely to enjoy it.

9. Expectations

Let go of all expectations – of what you are going to get, what will happen and how it will be. Having no expectations makes you appreciate everything much more.

10. Be present

Let go of the past and all the other Christmas’ you have spent together. Stop trying to predict what is going to happen next, you can’t see into the future. Stay in your own head rather than trying to mind read other people. Keep checking in with yourself and when you stop having a good time do something to change it rather than sit there like a pressure cooker about to explode.

11. Show your appreciation

Make eye contact and say thank you. Give hugs and kisses and generally show your appreciation for every gift, card, kindness and bit of Christmas cheer you receive no matter who has given it. You will feel good about it even if you don’t like the present!

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12. Have a stocking full of coping strategies

Use some of these suggestions and even though your family might still be exactly the same you will be different and so will your experience of Christmas.

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