Are you thinking about improving your relationships through the holidays?


The holidays are upon us and don’t we love them? Food, family, and fun, right? Every year we gather together for what we hope will be a joyful occasion. But wait. If we’re honest, there’s plenty of stress and tension, too. There’s always the mom who has too much wine or the uncle who has whacky political views or the narcissist who has to be the center of attention. Every family has at least one problem child. Often it’s a combination of difficult people who converge once or twice a year. It can be an explosive, toxic stew of people who wouldn’t ordinarily socialize but come together as family in a traditional gathering.

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So how do we manage the holidays with minimal emotional damage?

  • Resolve to be positive. Yes, the definition of crazy is to do the same thing over and over again and expect a different outcome. Remaining positive doesn’t mean you don’t expect problems. Still, it’s a good idea to go into the holidays with a positive attitude. You don’t have to be a Pollyanna; it just means you have to try to be nice, hold your tongue, stay sober, be decent and polite. You can’t control how others behave, but you can control how you behave and how you respond to others’ behavior. With graciousness and magnanimity.
  • Try not to take things personally. When you get together with family, it’s common to revert to the old childhood labels you had growing up—when you were a completely different person! Your brother still calls you lazy despite the fact that you have raised a family, built a successful career and whatever else you’ve accomplished. You have to consider the source of the insult. People who put down others demonstrate more about themselves than the person they’re attacking. It’s not about you—it’s about your brother’s insecurities and disappointments in life that have nothing to do with you at all. When you don’t engage with him, you disempower him to hurt you.
  • Carry a talisman. This sounds a little crazy, but if you need all the help you can get (and who doesn’t?) then give it a try. Keep a stone in your pocket that reminds you of your favorite relaxing beach and reach in your pocket to hold it when things get heated. Or wear an antique ring handed down by your grandmother who adored you and touch it when times get hard. The effect of a talisman is to give you quiet comfort in the midst of chaos. A good talisman will take your inner self to a happier place where you can feel calm and self-assured.
  • Make an escape, physically and mentally. You don’t have to stay in the same room with a toxic person who is too much to bear. When things get tough, excuse yourself politely and go to a quiet room elsewhere in the house where you can close the door, even it it’s the bathroom. Breathe deeply. Meditate if that’s your thing. Or just enjoy some quiet time by yourself. Don’t go back until you feel calm, cool and collected. Sometimes you don’t even need to actually leave the party. Just knowing you have a plan of escape to use in an emergency can help you weather the storm.
  • Have a plan. If you can anticipate trouble, you can also anticipate how you’ll handle it. Have some safe topics in mind to talk about with that uncle with whacky political views. Think about how you will respond to sensitive questions. Make name cards for the table and then put yours next to someone who gives you a safe, happy feeling. Plan to count to ten or at least pause before you speak, giving yourself time to formulate a prudent response. And plan not to expect too much. You may conduct yourself perfectly and still come away with some psychological bruises. Take time to recover and be good to yourself after the event. If someone proves to be too toxic to handle, consider banning him or her next time.


Nancy Travers is an Orange County Counseling professional. If you need safe, effective counseling services, please get in touch. You can reach her by clicking here