Recap: Coping With Difficult Relatives Over the Holidays

Hey folks! When The Everygirl asked me to write about ways to cope with difficult relatives over this holiday season, I wanted to be able to share all that I've learned in hopes that it would make someone's family holiday gathering just a little more pleasant. I think it's a topic that's relevant to a lot of us who have had to brace ourselves for dealing with those relatives that require an extra dose of inner strength. Some of us grow up with an impression of what a near perfect family should be, and it can be hard not to use it as a barometer for our own family experience. Others of us just want a functioning family, never mind perfect. Whatever your family challenges are, there may be some comfort in knowing that you are not your family. Still each of us has a unique impact on our family dynamics, and we can learn to interact with relatives, especially difficult ones, in ways that facilitate our own inner growth. Here are a few tips I mentioned in the article:

1. Deck the halls with self-reflection

What do you think your reaction to your difficult relatives says about you? This may be an easy question to answer for some, and more difficult for others. But it is a question worth answering if you want to learn a little more about yourself. I’ve had relatives who embarrassed me to no end, and I realized it was mostly because I felt they were a reflection of me. I had difficulty disassociating my identity from theirs and felt invested in making sure they were more perfect so I could appear to be, too. This type of self-understanding helped me to address personal issues such as my inclination to feel responsible for family issues outside of my control, and may do the same for you. 

2. Put a label on it

What do you think is wrong with your relatives? Are they pompous, untrustworthy, bullies? Maybe they have a legitimate personality problem. Whatever it is, label it. While I normally wouldn’t recommend boxing people into categories, in this context we can take a cue from doctors who use this method to make it a little easier to understand and manage patient symptoms. Trying to attach a label to your difficult relative's “symptoms” may be a helpful way to detach yourself, and see your relative’s behavior more objectively. Of course, I wouldn’t recommend sharing this label with the difficult relative unless you are looking for a full-force blow out. But used for your own purposes, it can create a healthy distance between you and the difficult relative, and may make it easier to not take it so personally. 

3. Wear their shoes

Perhaps taking an empathic stance might minimize your negative reactions towards difficult relatives. Do you know how your difficult relative got to be so difficult? Maybe they had a challenging childhood. Maybe they feel misunderstood and cope by lashing out. Or just maybe they are trying to connect with you and don’t know how. Whatever it is, knowing a little bit about them adds a different dimension to their behaviors that may make them a little easier to tolerate. 

4. Check your perspective

If you are anticipating a stressful family holiday gathering due to one or more difficult relatives, you are probably thinking of all the ways they are going to get on your nerves. This does nothing to put you in the holiday spirit, and may make you anxious and uptight. But if you want to have a better attitude about it, engage in a relaxing activity like exercising or journaling before the gathering to get you physically and emotionally prepared to deal with the family chaos. Relaxing allows you to think more clearly so that when your difficult relatives come at you, you are better prepared to deal with them. 

Read the full article on The Everygirl.

This article originally appeared December 14, 2016, on The Everygirl.