Surviving the holidays with relatives
The holiday season is supposed to be a time full of happiness and good cheer… so why do your disagreeable relatives always insist on sucking the joy out of the room? From clashing personalities to arguments over politics, our extended families — and sometimes, our immediate families — can make surviving the holidays hard.
Still, that doesn’t mean you have to go into the holiday season with a battle axe and a war plan in hand. With just a few adjustments to your mindset, the holidays can actually be… dare we say… fun again.
How to survive the holidays
Start by assuming positive intent
Wondering why you’re so stressed about the upcoming holiday season? The truth is, you might be psyching yourself out a little early. “If you’re already anticipating that a gathering is going to be stressful, your anxiety might get worse by the time the actual gathering begins,” says Thomas C. Lian, MD, a clinical psychiatrist and behavioral health medical director with Scripps Health.
But it doesn’t have to be this way. Instead of letting your anxiety about what might happen consume you, it’s better to assume positive intent in your relatives. That means deciding that your relatives, like you, also want to have a good time at your family gathering. In fact, it’s likely that they don’t want tension any more than you do, and going into an event thinking that they do will only further incite conflict.
If conflict does happen, don’t get in the ring
Okay, so you shouldn’t assume your relatives are out for blood this year, but sometimes, fights happen. When they do, it’s time to make a critical choice: do you get in the ring, or do you stay out of it? The goal, this time around, is to not get in the ring.
This is an important part of surviving the holidays. It takes two people to fight, and when a family member invites you to argue, you can simply turn them down. The next time a tense moment arrives, instead of engaging with your relative, do something else. Get up from the table and grab some more food, go watch the game on TV, or talk to your nieces and nephews about all the cool toys they got.
While it might feel demeaning to let your relative take pot shots at you without retaliation, this approach does two things: first, your aunt, uncle, brother or mother will find it a lot harder to keep picking fights with you if you simply don’t engage with them. Second, they’ll make themselves look increasingly foolish if they keep baiting an argument that doesn’t materialize. For these reasons, taking the high road is a win-win.
But what if your relatives are really getting to you? What do you do?
Understand that all you can control is your reaction
There’s a funny phenomenon you’ve probably never heard of called “The Zucchini Principle.” It states that if someone calls you a zucchini, it doesn’t make you a zucchini — pretty obvious, right?
When applied to real life, however, The Zucchini Principle starts to make a lot of sense. Just because a family member calls you a bad name or insults your character in some way, it doesn’t mean they’re right. What they say about you has very little sway on who you actually are, so their opinion is about as worthwhile as someone calling you a zucchini.
The next time a relative slings an ill remark your way, just remember: they’re trying to insist that you’re a zucchini… pretty ridiculous, right? This kind of thinking will help you stay calm even under pressure.
Carry around a gratitude journal
When family members are making the holidays hard, it’s easy to get lost in the negative side of things. To counteract those feelings, it helps to carry around a gratitude journal. Gratitude journals exist to help you write out everything you’re thankful for during the holidays — and there’s a lot to be thankful for!
From good food to pretty decorations to friends and family members (the good ones), there’s a little something for everyone to celebrate during this time of year. Remembering those things, and not losing sight of them, is key to weathering the minor storms your difficult relatives cook up.
Choose to be happy, not right
Right versus happy: it’s a choice we all have to make at times in our lives. During an argument, it’s easy to lay down fact after fact in order to prove that you’re right. Unfortunately, being right in this way comes at a cost: your own happiness.
The need to be right — for instance, telling your uncle why their political beliefs are wrong — often leads to name-calling, mean words and unnecessary tension. Is it better to belittle your relatives at the cost of your (and their) happiness? Or would it be easier to let them think what they think, and continue on being happy with yourself?
The choice is yours — but during the holidays, we’d advise you choose to be happy, not right.
How to survive the holidays: make peace with relatives
Dealing with relatives during the holidays is tough, but it’s not impossible. By remembering to assume positive intent, stay out of the ring, control your reaction, stay grateful and choose happiness, you can make it through this special time of year without a major blowout.
In fact, you might actually just have fun. ;-)