“If You Think You’re Enlightened, Go Back Home for Christmas” – Ram Dass
Even if your 40 years old and living as the best version of yourself, reuniting with your family over the holidays may just have you retracting into your eight-year-old self.
The thing is, our families specialize in bringing out our deepest insecurities, igniting fires within us that have been put out for a long time. Although on an everyday basis we typically choose not to engage with every member, I think most of us can agree that once the holidays come around, our choice becomes increasingly limited. Family gatherings with varying dynamics become extremely difficult once the values of certain members begin to clash. Maybe you’re the one becoming unruly after trying too hard for too long to bite your tongue, or maybe your two aunts just cannot stop trying to outdo each other. Whatever the case may be, you’re counting down the minutes until you can dash out the door without your mother guilting you.
When You Can’t be in Multiple Places at the Same Time…
Sometimes, the issue with the holidays doesn’t even come from clashing personalities so much as the fact that there are simply not enough hours in the day to see everyone! This induces elevated stress for you as you try running around as fast as possible, and some friends and family may still be deeply disappointed when you cannot make it.
How to Cope with the Dynamics of Your Family
Its important to understand that everyone has their own personality, and while you may not be able to manage others’ behavior you can certainly manage your reaction to it. Here are some ways that you can learn to cope with an awkward and/or tense family dynamic during the holidays:
- Have a plan. Use your past experiences to judge what may or may not happen and plan your reactions (and whose house you’re going to be at) ahead of time. Communicate with people so you can minimize any misunderstanding and hard feelings.
- Don’t expect to heal old wounds, and don’t expect people to change. Whatever irritated you the last five years will probably irritate you this year, so don’t indulge in conversations that you know will have you wanting to lash out.
- Set your boundaries! Remind yourself not to take the bait; people’s behavior is more often a reflection of themselves than you. Set your boundaries and remember not to deeply personalize interactions between yourself and other members.
- Befriend yourself. Being your own friend allows you to soothe yourself when your triggered. It makes situations not so awkward and may help to boost your confidence.
- Look for moments of joy. In reality, things are not perfect, and the dynamic of your family may never be so. However, look for moments that are important to you and allow yourself to be happy for a little while despite the imperfections.
Whether you’re the black sheep or not, all families have them. If you’re struggling with how to tolerate someone you may consider as the ‘black sheep’, have compassion towards them and think about what it feels like to be in their shoes. Understanding how they may be feeling may make it easier on you to get through the day.