Dreading driving home for Christmas? Here are five ways to navigate difficult family members over the festive period
The most wonderful time of the year? For many, Christmas is nothing like the adverts on TV or the festive scenes on greetings cards. It can be a source of real anxiety and insecurity, when we are expected to spend time with people we may find difficult or confrontational, and try to avoid at other times of the year. Here, Sunday Times bestselling mind coach Vex King suggests five ways of dealing with demanding or potentially distressing relationships over the holiday period.
Despite its magical promises, Christmas can also be a time of stress and anxiety for families with strained relationships and those estranged from their homes. For many who have distanced themselves from family to heal, there’s a fear that a get-together or isolation from family events will trigger a downward spiral and unravel all the work you’ve done. But whether you’re returning to dysfunctional dynamics that drove you far from your hometown, or celebrating the season solo, here are five ways to make it out unscathed.
Same ol’ Story
Most of us can anticipate the uncomfortable conversations bound to go down at the dinner table. The aunt who judges your relationship status, the dad who still doesn’t understand what you do for a living, or your mum who, try as she might to hide it, oozes disappointment on a particular subject she continues to bring up every holiday.
But what’s harder to anticipate is how those conversations make you feel and how they can cause you to revert to who you were before your growth and expansion. It’s pretty hard to dodge your lifelong trauma responses when you’re in the same environment with the same people who contributed to them.
So, when feelings of guilt, shame, judgment, insecurity, or rejection arise, have a game plan or even an exit strategy. These sanity-saving strategies are a good place to start.
1. It’s beginning to look a lot like boundaries
‘Tis the season for setting boundaries.
This may mean cutting conversations short, excusing yourself from the table, and arriving and leaving family gatherings precisely when you want to. It also means honouring your needs. Instead of pressuring yourself to get along with everyone, stay close to one or two relatives you click with or bring a friend to ground you. As a kid, you didn’t have much of a say in how others treated you or how to cope. But now you have tools to demonstrate what you aren’t willing to tolerate. You are now your greatest advocate.
Enforcing boundaries can be uncomfortable, so we all hope it doesn’t get to that, especially during a celebratory time. But it’s important to ground yourself in the reality that things can go left and be emotionally prepared to course-correct.
2. Welcome uninvited guests
Christmas can be extremely lonely and isolating if you’re far from home, have cut off your family, or any other circumstance keeps you from having the close, comforting, celebratory times you know many are having.
It’s possible that holidays will continue to trigger emotional wounds until they’re healed. So, if this season brings you to your knees, I encourage you to remain there. Cry it out. Feel it with your entire being. Instead of running from the anger, sadness, and pain, pull up a chair, dine with them, and just maybe, they’ll transform into understanding, forgiveness, acceptance, and eventually peace.
3. Skip the whole show
You might just have to ask yourself, is family dinner worth it?
There’s a stigma around skipping the holidays. But it doesn’t make you a grinch or a scrooge. You’re not out here telling everyone what a sham the season is. But if it means protecting your peace and keeping your mental health and well-being in check, opt out of celebrating altogether. You don’t even have to recognize any triggering holiday as anything more than a day off. That gives you about fifteen hours to do whatever you want with whoever you want and then call it a night.
Maybe next year or the year after, your heart and mind will be in a place where you can take on the seasonal festivities. Until then, do what you have to do to get through. You don’t owe anyone a thing.
4. Do your best
When possible, lead with love, tune into the highest vibration within, and create a feeling of inner peace so strong that you’ll be energetically untouchable. Smile through the festivities. And skip out on all the drama.
But, if you can’t maintain a state of Zen (which is hard even without family triggers), just do your best. Free yourself and others from the expectation of what Christmas with family should feel like, and see it for what it is without the need to fix or change anything. Sometimes radical acceptance takes the burden off your shoulders and helps you enjoy the little moments instead of hyper-focusing on all that’s gone wrong.
5. PCR (Post-Christmas Recovery)
Prepare for Post-Christmas Recovery. This can be a day or two where you do the things you love. If your family has completely drained you emotionally and mentally, gravitate to deep rest and slow, calm activities that nurture your body which don’t require much thought or planning – but are effective at getting you back into alignment.
Navigating tricky relationships is one of the holiday’s biggest challenges.
Part of you loves that the family honours tradition and comes together under one roof. The other part of you knows you’ll be sharing a space with people you have rocky relationships with, and the anticipation of the evening ending in drama.
But you don’t have to wait for the other shoe to drop. Get out ahead of it with a little emotional prep:
You might be tempted to sweep things under the rug and quickly make amends with someone. Resist feeling pressured into diminishing your feelings for a fast resolution. There’s no need to convince yourself to process something prematurely for the sake of the holiday.
Alternatively, you won’t want to be passive-aggressive to someone you’re at odds with. This will require some emotional preparation. You know you’re going to see them, and emotions will arise. Process them beforehand so they don’t get out of hand when you’re face to face.
Golden Rule: Be kind to yourself and others
If you take any advice, take this. Be kind to yourself and to others. You don’t have to be inauthentic, nor have conversations you’re not ready to have. But to be kind to everyone at the table is a good way to maintain your own peace. Of course, if anyone tries to engage in confrontation or dig up old sides of you, you’re equipped to handle things in a healthy manner.
Christmas dinner is just one of many challenging tables life invites us to attend. And sometimes, getting to our seats is half the battle. But when we do show up, surrounded by the faces of our past, passing gravy to someone we share years of trauma or enmeshed history with, we can show up as who we are now. Not who we think they want us to be. Not what makes everyone else at the table comfortable.
You are here now. Taking space as the curated, beautiful, healing, soulful being that you are.