The holiday season is often hailed as a time of joy, sharing, and love. For many, it can also be a source of stress and anxiety. This can be especially the case when it comes to dealing with difficult family members. While we all wish for idyllic family gatherings, the reality can be quite different. Arguments, criticisms, and toxic behaviors can make these celebrations emotionally charged. Consider these 8 key tips to help you handle challenging family encounters during the holidays. You can keep your cool and maintain your emotional well-being.
1. Set Realistic Expectations
This isn’t your first rodeo. Setting realistic expectations for how to deal with negative family members is key to successfully managing challenging family gatherings. You know your family. Separate what you wish your interactions with them could be like from what your interactions with them actually are. Many people reenact troubling patterns again and again in an attempt to master them.
This time it will be different.
This time I will say or do something that will result in a different outcome.
I can successfully change the patterns.
If you have tried this time and again without change, it may be time to accept certain difficult truths about your family and prepare accordingly.
Example: Imagine your family often engages in divisive conversations about politics. Expect these discussions to occur, and be prepared with a response that considers your mental health. You may have an argument prepared and be satisfied with voicing your opinion without remorse or fury. You may steer the conversation toward more agreeable subjects. Or you might decide to gracefully disengage to maintain a peaceful atmosphere.
2. Prepare Emotionally in Advance
Emotional preparation is essential for maintaining your well-being during difficult family gatherings. You don’t want to go into these family gatherings with your tank already empty. Holidays can frequently be a litany of back-to-back obligations, to-dos and get-togethers. Reflect ahead of time on what fills you up and recharges you. Build that into this time of year so you are feeling continually recharged. Say no to obligations that will deplete your resources.
Example: Thanksgiving with your family may be ripe with criticism and arguments. You feel completely spent every year after you leave. Plan your week before with some of your favorite things. Lunch/Zoom with your best friend. Schedule your therapy session. Do something fun with yourself. Cook with a friend. Fill up your tank and tap into that feeling during Thanksgiving dinner. Just close your eyes and remind yourself of how loved and validated you felt just days ago.
3. Practice What You Will Say
If you anticipate difficult conversations or situations, prepare your responses in advance. During difficult family situations, you may find that your body goes into an acute stress response. During a stress response, the body experiences a surge of stress hormones. This prepares the body to act for survival. Emphasis on act, NOT to think, consider or strategize. Therefore, you must strategize ahead of time so you know exactly what you want to do. This can provide you with the ability to navigate these challenges with grace and assertiveness.
Example: If your family members consistently pressure you about your relationship status or career choices, rehearse your responses. Have short scripted responses that you want to say. “Mom, I don’t want to talk about that.” “Dad, Jeffery, and I have decided this is the decision that is right for us.” Remember, you don’t have to justify, argue, defend, or explain (JADE), if you don’t want to.
4. Set Clear Boundaries
Setting and maintaining boundaries is essential when dealing with difficult family members. Clear boundaries protect your emotional well-being and can prevent unnecessary conflicts. Remember boundaries are about you and your behaviors. Reflect on what your boundaries are and how you will honor them. When considering how to deal with negative family members, remember you cannot control the behavior of others. You can only control yourself.
Example: Suppose your mother tends to be overbearing and critical, frequently offering unsolicited advice. Politely but firmly communicate that you appreciate her concern but you do not want unsolicited advice. You might then end or change the conversation if she continues on the topic. Or let her know that you do not want to discuss the subject and leave the area if she continues.
Continue on to Part 2 where we explore 4 more strategies for dealing with negative family members including making use of the scientific method!
Begin Counseling in Branchburg, NJ, Scotch Plains, and Beyond!
Dealing with family can be taxing at times, but you don’t have to address it alone. In therapy, you can receive a patient and understanding voice to offer support. Our team of caring therapists is ready to offer support for you this holiday season as you navigate the challenges of toxic family members. You can start the process from our practice locations in Branchburg, Scotch Plains, or across the state via online therapy. Start your therapy journey with Brave Minds by following these steps:
- Contact us at Brave Minds Psychological Services.
- Speak with one of our counselors.
- Start receiving the support you deserve!
Other Services Offered by Brave Minds Psychological Services
Our team understands that you may experience concerns with more than one mental health concern, which is why we are happy to offer a variety of services in support of your overall well-being. We provide EMDR Therapy, couples counseling, postpartum counseling, food allergies, and birth trauma therapy. In addition, we also offer therapy for trauma and anxiety. Our caring counselors provide mental health services for adults, teens, and children. We offer treatment for teen anxiety, social phobia in teens, child sexual abuse, child anxiety, and more. Prefer building a support network with group therapy? Our therapists also offer several options for group therapy. Our services are offered in person at our Scotch Plains, NJ office and through online therapy in New Jersey.