Dreading Your Holiday Family Gathering
family gatherings can be a challenge. No matter how old we are, how successful we are in life and how experienced we are in dealing with relationships every family has one or two people who seem to be able to take the joy out of our enjoyment of holiday family gatherings.
This time of year it’s a good idea to have some strategies in place for coping with the difficult moments so that you can actually appreciate (for the most part) those family holiday parties.
- Tell yourself “I’m not the only one is struggling with this.” There’s no reason to feel inadequate or self-critical when you’re on your last nerve with family. There’s hardly a person among us who is able to hold onto their adult selves more than a few hours when with our families of origin. Take a breath and use one of your self care strategies.
- Get out of the strong emotion and back into your adult self. Meditation experts say, “the door to the present moment is through the body.” Get out of your emotion this way: Take a breath. Take another breath. Take another breath and focus on the physical aspects of breathing. Feel the coolness of the air as you take it in through your mouth and nose. Feel the warmth as your breath leaves your body. Focus on the rise and fall of your chest as you breath. This focus on your body will help relax you physically and emotionally.
- Take a break. Find a reason to walk around the block. Or run to the convenience store. I’ve been known to leave a crowded room at a relative’s home and wander into the living room to look at the pictures or sit in a chair and quietly read a magazine article.
- Don’t take it personally. The less you take comments and interactions personally the more ability you have to make a conscious choice about your response instead of being offended. Which leads to the next strategy.
- Become an observer of family dynamics. You can hold onto yourself and learn a lot if you can put your reactive emotions on a back burner and observe your family. Who in the family is likely to attack or criticize? Who avoids conflict? Who is seeking attention? One of the most interesting aspects of family interaction involves triangles of people. When two people are arguing who do they try to pull in to resolve it? Who are the allies? Who is “gossiping”?
- Apply compassion to yourself and to your loved ones. Every one of us has a hurt feeling or two as a result of growing up in even the most loving family. Many of us grew up in families who faced significant challenging life events and even trauma. A little understanding of our very human vulnerabilities can help us extend the same understanding to others. When we or people we love express strong opinions, show frustration or annoy us it helps to remember that underneath those behaviors we’re likely to find hurt feelings, fears, past traumas and other vulnerable emotions. Stepping back a little and seeing the situation from that perspective can help us cultivate patience and forbearance with one another