For a lot of people, Christmas is a time for family get togethers. The popular view is of happy families harmoniously enjoying Christmas.
The reality is often different… That sister in law with the condescending attitude. The cousin with the acid tongue. The catty aunts who make harpies look like angels. The boozy uncle who annoys everyone with his drunken conversation and ability to stick to you like glue no matter what you do to get rid of him. The brother who delights in picking fights with you. The mother who never misses an opportunity to point out your faults. The father who treats you like a nothing.
It can leave you dreading Christmas and finding it hard to keep your cool on the day.
So how do you manage it?
The first thing to consider is “Do I have to go to the family Christmas?”
There are many reasons why you may answer Yes and many reasons why you may answer No. If the answer is No then, you need to consider whether you are going to go or not. If the answer is Yes then you need to work out a strategy to keep yourself calm at the family Christmas get together.
If there are unresolved issues in the family, it can be helpful to see a counsellor. You may be able to identify ways you can discuss these issues with your family at a less stressful time of year. Or you may decide that conversation will never be productive and aim instead to heal yourself from the pain of these issues and identify ways you can let go of the pain and enjoy the day. Or at least not murder someone!
Talking about the pain to a counsellor can be really helpful. It allows you to express your pain and be heard. It allows you to process the pain and find ways to move forward in life. It allows you to identify ways to cope with the family situation.
Good preparation in the lead up to that family get together is also important. Dwelling on the day and imagining all the nasty things that are going to be said and done to you will only serve to increase your stress. And on the day you are more likely to get angry or upset at something someone else does. In a way your thoughts about what you fear happening will become a self-fulfilling prophesy.
A really effective way to divert your attention from dwelling on the day is to practice mindfulness. Ensure you have some time each day to just practice a simple mindfulness meditation. If you practice mindfulness regularly you will find you become a lot calmer and it is easier to cope with the stressful events of life, such as the family get together.
Resolve to stay positive. One practice many use is to find something in the situation to be grateful of. Jamie realised her catty aunts were what kept her from getting caught up in the politics of her workplace. She decided she was grateful for their behaviour because it led to her abhorring such nastiness and meant she was not stressed by events in her workplace. She was able to go to the Christmas event and find her aunts’ behaviour amusing. Before she had discovered the gratitude point she has always become enraged at their behaviour, now it was something to laugh at.
On the day other things you can do to remain calm include:
- Avoid drinking too much. The more you drink the lower your inhibitions and the more likely you will lose your temper at someone and cause the kind of scene you were hoping to avoid.
- If there are family members arguing, or that sister in law is out with her comments, stop for a moment. Ask yourself “What is important for me today? Do I want to have a nice day? Will arguing with her achieve that? Is it worthwhile risking the relationship with my brother because of her? Does it matter what she thinks?” I am sure you can think of many more questions to ask. The important thing is to stop. Take a mindful breath. Check in with your feelings and the outcome you want. And, instead of reacting to that person, respond. That response may involve just walking away from them. Dignity intact.
- If you are caught up with the acid tongued cousin, steer the conversation away from the nastiness towards positive shared experiences. Few people can resist a positive family story. You will all enjoy yourselves more if you are reminiscing about things that grow family bonds.
- If things are getting too negative take a breather. Remove yourself from the conversation. Look yourself in the mirror. Make eye contact with yourself and acknowledge how you are feeling. Then have compassion on yourself. Try 4-7-8 breathing. If you need to take a long bathroom break to achieve this, then do it. Get involved in another activity at the get together. Some of the more pleasant family members may be heading off on a walk. Join them. Walking is a great stress reliever and anger is dissipated by the movement of walking. You may find making a joke about the negative topic can help.
- If your mother/father is there causing the pain he/she always causes. Take that breather and tell yourself how it feels. Find someone else to spend time with. Get involved in other activities. Leave the get together at the end of the day and shake off the negative energy left by your parent. Most importantly, don’t give him/her permission to ruin your day. Yes you want his/her acceptance and love but that may never happen. Give yourself the love and acceptance you need. And see a counsellor to work through this.
Have a wonderful Christmas. May you find gratitude, humour, self-compassion, love and acceptance at your family Christmas, even if you give it to yourself.