How to handle difficult family members over the holidays


The holidays are great, right? Christmas scented candles, hot chocolate, the presents, Christmas music! And my personal favorite - tights and oversized sweaters.

It’s the most magical time of year!

But if we’re being honest, for many people it doesn’t live up to the hype. In fact, it doesn’t even come close. To say it’s the most magical time of the year is a load of crap.

Because you know what often comes along with the holidays? Time with family.

With unrealistic expectations already set in place, spending extra time with family can leave a lot of people frustrated, disappointed, or downright pissed off.

Because something the holidays don’t bring - is change. People are who they are. And just because it’s a specific time of the year doesn’t change that.

So whether you’ve got a “crazy uncle,” a grandmother who criticizes you about who knows what every year, a parent who’s judgmental - you CAN make it through the holiday season.

Here’s a couple of things to keep in mind as you spend extra time with difficult family members this holiday season:

Don’t take things personally

What someone says about you or any adverse action directed towards you means a lot more about the person it’s coming from than it does about you.

Part of what can be so hurtful is often negative comments trigger something inside of us that’s already a sore spot.

i.e., if you deep down have a belief about yourself that you’re not good enough - and then your dad makes a derogatory comment or joke about your lack of ambition in life, then it’ll sting more. Because it’s not just a rude comment, it pokes at something that’s already tender inside of you and feels personal.

Which leads me to my next point,

Excuse yourself when necessary

Sometimes things are easier said than done. So when you feel yourself getting worked up because of something someone said, separate yourself. This could look like something as simple as going to the bathroom, running out to your car to grab something, checking a voicemail. Whatever makes sense for the situation that gives you an opportunity to step away.

This will give you a chance to reflect on the comment and understand how you may have interpreted the message and what inside of you was triggered.

And even more important, is it gives you an opportunity to step away and reflect on the truth about who you really are.

(Hint: It’s helpful to prepare yourself for these situations instead of trying to come up with the truth on the spot when you’re already feeling down. This might look like having a few truth statements written in the notes section of your phone and reading over them when the time comes. Your feelings won’t necessarily change right away. But growth happens when you meditate on truth and walk out of what’s actually/already true about you.)

If you don’t have time to reflect on the “what/how” of the situation then just use those few minutes to yourself as a chance to meditate on truth.

And if you know the day is going to be tough - start your day off before you arrive meditating on truth ahead of time.

Assess your expectations

As I mentioned, people don’t change just because it’s a particular time of year.

When we have expectations that everything is going to be “magical” then, 1) We are setting ourselves up for failure. And 2) we set expectations of others that they often can’t or won’t fulfill.

I’m a firm believer in people changing. If I didn’t then I’d be quite the con artist seeing as I’m a counselor. However, when we put our joy, happiness, contentedness, peace, etc. in someone else changing, then we’re giving up our power.

When we can rest assured that we can be okay even if someone else doesn’t change, that’s growth. And it frees us up to look at ourselves instead of focusing on what someone else is doing. You’ll never grow or experience peace when you’re waiting for someone else to change.

And an excellent place to start is to examine and let go of your expectations of your difficult family members.

So go - enjoy the heck out of festivities of the season. And do it with peace in your heart knowing that you’re enough just because you are who you are. And nothing can change that or take that away from you.