This is definitely the time of year when most people start to wonder how to deal with difficult relatives. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
I was in New York City this past weekend when I first saw it…a huge store window with Christmas decor in it. On October 20.
But let’s be honest, Costco has had their Christmas stuff up since October 1. It’s always a little daunting to see holiday decor so early in the season, but it does serve as an important reminder: the holidays will be here before we know it. It starts with Halloween (come on, it totally does!), and before you know it, it’s time to carve the bird, and lo and behold, it’s December and it’s finally socially acceptable to be listening to Christmas music (but secretly, you’ve been listening to it for weeks by this time…or is it just me?).
Along with all the joys of the most wonderful time of the year, there are also inevitably some stressors to deal with. At the top of the list, for many, is dealing with difficult relatives.
Relatives can be difficult for a whole host of reasons, ranging from them trying to manipulate or control situations and people to them consistently doing or saying hurtful things. For many, merely thinking of hosting or visiting with difficult relatives causes holiday seasonal anxiety that can potentially steal allll the holly jolly out of your Christmas. This begs the question: what are you supposed to do about it?
Many people mistakenly believe that because you’re related to someone, there’s nothing you can do about it when they say inappropriate things or overstep your boundaries. Please hear me loud and clear: that is DEFINITELY not the case. Here are a few helpful reminders to review before we head into
difficult relative the holiday season.
Focus on you, not them
Like I said, the first mistake most people make is thinking there’s nothing they can do when a relative is disrespectful. They ruminate on how the person has wronged them in the past and absolutely dread seeing them for weeks before it actually happens. The much more helpful (and healthy) thing to do is think about what YOU can do. You definitely can’t change their behavior, short of hoping for a miracle. Instead, you must decide what YOU will do when and if they mistreat you. Decide what you are willing to tolerate, and what you are definitely NOT willing to tolerate. Take some time to journal about who or what has stolen your joy in years past and what could be done to restore it this year. This is something I talked at length about it my free boundaries class last night (click here to catch the replay!).
Visualize the ideal
I’m definitely not one of those people who thinks that by visualizing something you can “manifest” it or cause it to happen. No shade if that’s your thing, it’s just not mine. I do, however, believe that visualization can help you get VERY clear on what it is you really want and then you can use that clear picture to set goals and take the action steps needed to make your desired outcome far more likely to occur. Take some time to get comfortable, close your eyes, and really envision how you want your holiday party, Christmas morning, or white elephant exchange to go. Who is there, what food is being served, what are you wearing, and most importantly, how are you FEELING in this ideal scenario? Once you have it cleared up in your mind, think about what action steps you might take to make it a bit more likely to occur. Do you need to tell Uncle Fred that he’s welcome as long as he doesn’t have too much to drink? Do you need to nix the alcohol all together? Is it time to tell Great Aunt Jenny that politics are off the table for conversation this year? You do you, but really give this some thought and consideration.
Practice responding instead of reacting
Let’s be honest – you’re not going to be able to avoid every awkward, uncomfortable, or hurtful situation with family by visualizing your ideal Christmas dinner (but it really IS helpful, so I suggest you give it a try!). We are all flawed human beings, and even someone who love you very much, with the very best of intentions can hurt or disrespect you out of nowhere. While the previous ideas can help you notice patterns of unhealthy behavior and plan ways to deal with them, it’s also helpful to practice responding instead of reacting when someone says or does something that triggers or offends you. When you’re caught completely off guard, it’s best to take a moment to notice the anger or hurt you may be feeling and then take a few deep breaths. You can practice saying things like, “I don’t think you meant it that way, but that really hurt my feelings” or “I’m not sure if you’re aware of it, but that’s a very racist remark” a few days ahead of when you might need them. You’ll be much more likely to respond, rather than react if you’ve had a chance to practice a calm response ahead of time.
Accept what is
At the end of the day (and the end of the holiday season), we can make the necessary changes within ourselves and simply accept how things go. To do otherwise would be to induce our own suffering, and that’s just not a good idea for your mental health. No matter what happens, can you look back and find the moments of joy and love, though there will surely be some not-so-perfect moments as well? Focus on what you do have, and what went well with gratitude. Approach each situation with a beginner’s mind…just because Cousin Mary was out of line last year doesn’t mean she will be this year.
I hope these tips can help you increase your peace and joy in the weeks and months ahead, my friends! Let me know if you have any other good ideas for dealing with difficult relatives.
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