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Five Frank Tips for Enjoying Your Family This Holiday Season - Dr. Margaret Rutherford

It’s the holidays!

I have listened these past weeks how patients are anticipating the season; everything from looking forward to it, to fearing pure chaos, to expecting complete authoritarian rule.

Relatives fighting one another, swearing they won’t come if so-and-so is there. Old wounds, never resolved, that either creep or blast their way into the present.  Or the family whose holiday is strictly planned, extremely orchestrated with gilt to the hilt and every spoon and dessert fork in place.

Some families do manage to hit and even maintain a common ground, including a comfort level with each other that seems to abide; there may be issues but they are managed.

What’s going on? Families are supposed to be our buttress. Our go-to. Our safe asylum. Perhaps for the lucky, but families are flawed because people are flawed. So many people in this season grieve the family that should or could have been while dealing with the family that is, whether that means dealing with serious problems or irritating disappointments.

Aunt Jennifer will sip too much eggnog, and say something nasty to you or worse, one of your children. Grandma Serena will demand that all the family gather at her house when you would rather start Christmas traditions in your own home. Cousin Jacob will show up unexpectedly, right as you are about to take 20 minutes for yourself, to “sit and visit.” Your father-in-law will chide without a thank you or a smile, “You gave me too much food again. I can’t eat that much.”

What can help you through?

1) Use an “observer” stance.

This is when you subtly detach from the goings-on of the day. Not that you are not involved or friendly, but you observe yourself and others almost as if you were going to write a report on your own family, “My Family Interactions At The Holiday.”

It keeps your perspective more objective.

2) Don’t over-personalize.

Remind yourself of what you know about the people in your family that makes them act the way they do – that has nothing to do with you. “What do I know about my brother that might cause him to not give me a hug that isn’t about me? He is unhappy in his marriage. He may be depressed. Maybe he didn’t shower…”

If you can answer the question, you are more likely to shrug a hurtful behavior off so it doesn’t ruin your day.

3) Realize if your own reactions are suspect.

Maybe you yourself are a little controlling, or not very go with the flow. Maybe you are feeling bad about yourself, having a rough time, and are more sensitive at the moment. Maybe you’re plain exhausted.

If you take responsibility for your own potential to take things the wrong way or be difficult, then your half of any problem will be much easier to admit. It’s not easy to accept that you’re perhaps the link between conflict with others, but holding up an honest mirror to yourself can be helpful.

4) Look for the good.

Most folks get up in the morning with the intent to live their lives the best they can that day. If you focus on what is good about people, then that will grow in your mind. You will be able to notice those things and enjoy the relationship.

There are definitely exceptions to this, for example: people with sociopathic or abusive behaviors, those that seem to live to manipulate or deride others, or those that have addictions that are out of control. If you have someone like this in your family, there is a problem that is much more significant than a simple holiday disappointment. Please reach out and talk to someone who could help you figure out a strategy for some kind of action.

5) Hang out with your family of choice.

Our friends are our family of choice — the one you’ve created all on your own. They can often provide what your family of origin won’t or isn’t capable of offering. If you can absorb those things from your good friends, then whatever pain or issue you have with your biological family will not feel as intense. Disappointing perhaps, but not as hurtful.

So breathe. Be mindful. Love where you can. Enjoy what there is to enjoy. Relax a little.

May you have a meaningful and peaceful holiday season.

Click here for “Marriage Is Not For Chickens,” the new gift book by Dr. Margaret! It’s perfect for engagements, anniversaries, weddings, or for the person you love!

You can hear more about relationships and many other topics by listening to Dr. Margaret’s new podcast, SelfWork with Dr. Margaret Rutherford.