Are you worried about socializing with family members for holiday celebrations? If so, you are not alone.
Maybe you have an uncle who drinks too much. Or, do you have to deal with your irritating in-laws?
“There’s always drama during social events that involve lots of family members,” says a psychologist we’ll call Allison. Allison is a friend of ours who says tension escalates for many people this time of year.
“Some of my clients have to deal with very complex issues,” Allison explains. “For instance, I have a client who has to persuade her present husband to visit with two of her ex-spouses. Why? There are several small children involved, and she doesn’t feel that comfortable around her ex-spouses or their families by herself.”
Allison goes on to say that this same client actually owes an ex-brother-in-law $20,000. “They did a real estate deal together, and the deal went sour,” says Allison. “People have a long memory when it comes to money.”
If you are dealing with complex relationships and tension during the holidays, it pays to find your own control measures. Just remember to do what works, rather than throw fuel on the flames.
These tips can help:
• Give someone a “forgiveness” pass. For example, if a family member did something to hurt you in the past, wipe the slate clean. Become the bigger person.
• Stop talking about past pain. If your ex hurt you two months ago, that’s a fresh wound. But if it’s been five years, zip it up. Don’t voice anything negative about him or her. That’s how healing begins.
• Don’t do anything to make a problem worse. If someone throws a harsh comment your way, just say “ouch.” But don’t pump any life into the misery by saying, “You’ve got some stinky issues yourself.” Make up your mind not to throw a punch or return a punch during the holidays. Not one.
Part of the tension in getting with relatives is that you know the drill. You know your sister-in-law might criticize your new job because she’s jealous. You know your brother might mention your high school boyfriend in front of your husband. Prepare ahead of time by just making up your mind not to engage in a discussion.
“You have to plan ahead how you will handle an attack,” says Allison. “Pretending to be distracted and muttering some agreement usually works. Most attackers will not have the nerve to say something twice.”
Changing the subject often works, too. If someone jabs you with a criticism, you can always say, “Did anybody see a fly just a second ago?”
“I wear a sense of humor like a shield of protection,” says Allison. “Just because I’m a psychologist doesn’t mean I don’t wrestle with crazy kin myself. We all have blabber-mouths and jealous people in our families.”
Emotional baggage often springs wide open during celebrations because people are laughing, sometimes drinking too much, and craving attention.
“I’ve learned to work a room with casual greetings and find a place to sit away the crowd,” says a woman we’ll call Jennifer. “My husband’s siblings are still livid that he was their parents’ favorite. He is married to someone who truly loves him, meaning me, and his siblings can’t stand it.”
Jennifer sums up her strategy for distancing herself like this: “I dress great, smile big, and pretend there’s a glass wall around myself.”
Judi Light Hopson is the Executive Director of the stress management website USA Wellness Cafi at www.usawellnesscafe.com. Emma Hopson is an author and a nurse educator. Ted Hagen is a family psychologist.