Yesterday I helped you see the bigger picture of families and personalities coming together at the holidays. I don’t want this to come off as assuming that all family gatherings are hurtful and awkward. But I promise, there are enough people facing this that it bears some attention.
Today we’ll cover how to get around sticky social situations with difficult family members.
Identify A Potential Ugly Moment In The Making
If someone is mildly annoying, there’s no reason to be on high alert. You can probably weave your way in and out of their presence without to much trouble if you need to. But you do want to watch for people who don’t mind creating an ugly moment. The key is to not get caught up in the bait. If you have identified someone as a truly difficult family member, you could assume that most (if not all) things they say might be leading up to the bait.
Be kind and polite as you would be to anyone else, but be wary of anything that sounds like an invitation to interact. It doesn’t mean you can’t have a conversation. Your loud-mouth bully cousin might really cool his jets when talking about his car. Just be on your toes and keep your responses light or neutral if necessary.
Make An Escape Plan
Sometimes just smiling and saying, “Excuse me, I’m just going to go check on (fill in relative’s name)” can work. You may also want to plan for a “rescue me” signal to your spouse, your sibling, or whoever else might be sympathetic to people getting stuck in the trap. That can make a gentle escape much easier and socially smooth.
If you sense an ugly moment building up, it’s time to take action. Get away, make an obvious overture to another family member and change the subject, or just don’t answer. Things like this are much easier to manage if you can interrupt them in the early stages. You can’t stop someone from going off if they are going to go off, but you can remove yourself as a target.
When someone in the family (or multiple people) are just too destructive for your taste, decline the invitation altogether. Or, if you are left out of a gathering that would likely have such drama, consider this a blessing. Plan to spend time with your more decent loved ones in other ways. You can have the personal time you want without having to deal with the nasty stuff. If it’s truly destructive or dangerous, stay away.
Make Your Own Holiday Joy
Above all, folks, remember this – make your own joy this holiday. Enjoy your wonderful family members and keep the irritating or offensive ones at arms length. Laugh at the annoying moments, avoid or put aside the unpleasant ones. Don’t let anyone’s bad behavior steal your joy from you.
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From Psych Central's Erika Krull, MS:
Thanksgiving 2011 - What Does Yours Look Like? | Family Mental Health (November 24, 2011)
Last reviewed: 4 Dec 2010