How to Survive Turbulent Holiday Get-Togethers

The following blog article is written by Jennifer Scott. Jennifer is an advocate for opening-up about mental health, which I greatly appreciate. Through her work with SpiritFinder, she offers a forum where those living with anxiety and depression can discuss their experiences. I hope you find her contribution helpful.  —Paul J

One of the main pillars of the holiday season is family, and chances are if you plan on participating in any holiday functions you will be doing so with your own flesh and blood. Ideally, your family always has your back and will support you no matter what, but sometimes the only thing families end up sharing in common is their blood. Perhaps now would be a good time to reconnect with family members who have yet to see all the positive work you have been putting into yourself this year, and rekindle lost relationships. If your family get-togethers are particularly drama-filled and stress inducing, here are a few moves to finesse your way out of explosive situations and keep everyone festive and in good spirits.

1. Keep an Open Mind

Perhaps the worst approach you could take to your upcoming family event would be to shell yourself up and subscribe to the belief that things are going to blow up, quickly. Chances are, you haven’t seen or heard from many members of your family—probably since the last family get together. A lot can happen in a year, and people can change, so you should never rule out the possibility that things might go differently this year. Prepare yourself to enter a positive mindset going into the gathering. You might consider doing some quiet meditations to clear your mind of any negative energy. If you are of clear mind and heart, then you might just rub some of that positivity on other family members, which can set the family dinner up for a smoother run. Remember to smile and keep your body language positive and receptive towards others. Even small cues like these can help steer proceedings into a more cheerful direction.

2. Know Your Allies and Antagonizers

Families are made up from a diverse group of people, with their own set of ideas, beliefs, and behaviors. Some family members may be more hostile in these kinds of situations. All it takes is one or two confrontational personalities to sour the family dinner. On the other hand, your family is likely composed of a few very kind and compassionate people. As you prepare for your family get-together, you should consider which attendees fall into each category—Allies and Antagonizers. Situate yourself amongst the Allies. These family members are not those who necessarily side with you on every issue that may pop up on the dinner table, but they are the ones that will want to avoid conflict generally. Stick with them and you lessen the likelihood of being swept into an argument with an Antagonizer.    

3. Prepare The Script

There will be a point during the get together, where you will have to face the music and interact with an Antagonizer. If these family members do not like something about you or your life decisions, then they will probably let you know in some fashion. If you have in fact gone through rough times in your past, these things will probably rear their ugly head in these interactions. To remove yourself from unpleasant conversations, and limit the collateral damage they may bring, prepare a few things to say in order to deflect from unpleasant topics and prodding questions. If someone in your family starts badgering you about a time you struggled, be a bigger person and remember that you have changed, even if your family member cannot see it just yet. The best thing you can do is be the bigger person in these situations and turn the other cheek. Remember that the interaction will have an end, and that you can end it at any time you’d like. Also, be prepared to stick to your plan for your change. For example, if you have made a plan to stay sober and someone asks why are you aren’t drinking, just say things like “I actually feel better when I don’t drink.”

The key to handling rocky family get-togethers, is to remember that your family has all come together for a reason. At the core of the dinner, or gift-exchange, there is love and compassion. Often times pettiness can take center stage at these events, but as long as you stick with your Allies you will find the Antagonizers are a little more bearable, and your family isn’t all that bad after all.

Jennifer Scott shares stories about the ups and downs of her anxiety and depression at SpiritFinder.

Please consider LifePractical Counseling for your counseling or consultant needs. You may reach us at 205-807-6645, or contact us via our website at Paul Johnson is a professionally licensed marriage and family therapist and professionally licensed counselor in the state of Alabama.


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