3 Steps to Overcome Family Holiday Challenges

December 21, 2016
11 minutes read
3 Steps to Overcome Family Holiday Challenges

Sometimes during the holiday season, all the “family togetherness” seems to be more stressful than it is refreshing. The same thing can happen when you have to attend parties with acquaintances you’d rather avoid. How can you deal with these situations without feeling defeated? As a counselor I have many people describe the holidays as a painful and difficult time to survive.

They are triggered by past wounds and unresolved issues when their family all comes together. The family gathering around the dining room table or a cozy fireplace may contain an emotional response from past history. So if I am describing the struggles that you have faced, these tips are to help you enjoy the holidays this year.

One of the tools I teach in counseling and personal development is called Evaluate / Validate / Choose.

These three steps help you to navigate through any situation successfully.

  1. Evaluate:

Identify the situation and realize the messages that you are receiving. So if Aunt Emma is making a cutting comment directed to you and making you feel an inch big, recognize that it is hurtful, and inappropriate. Choose to disconnect and don’t allow yourself to react. (Tips on how to do that are below.) Instead move to the next step and validate your feelings.

  1. Validate:

When you validate what you feel, you recognize that you are offended or hurt for a reason – because someone spoke to you in an inappropriate way. You acknowledge that someone took a jab at you, and that is why you feel rejected or alone. You recognize that your feelings may be reasonable according to the circumstances. However, you don’t obey or make decisions according to your feelings, which bring you to the next step.

  1. Choose:

If someone is rude or hurtful to you, remember that you have a choice in how to respond. Just because someone else’s behavior is poor, doesn’t mean that you have to respond in kind. Choose healthy behaviors and life skills in spite of those around you. It will give you control over your life and emotions instead of making you dance on the end of a string when others command you to respond to their performance.

Tips To Respond and Not React

  • Remember That Other People’s Behavior Is Not About You

You may feel judged when your sister calls you “selfish, lazy, or some other uncomplimentary term,” but actually it’s not about you. Rather, she is giving an opinion based on her perceptions and beliefs that come through her individual filter and wounds, arriving at a perception that may be invalid. If you choose to take it personally you become easy prey and your emotions are now subject to others instead of remaining under your own control. By disconnecting and refusing to take it personally, you become immune even sitting in the middle of an intentional assault.

Give yourself two seconds before you respond so that you don’t release toxic emotions back into the environment. A pause between thinking and speaking will actually give the neurons in your brain time to make a leap from the fear center of
the brain to produce a less reactive response.
Realize that you have a choice, and you retain the right to choose your response and reactions. Your family member may do what they have always done in the past, but you don’t have to respond with old familiar patterns. Choose this year to break the cycle.

  • Comfort Yourself And Pay Attention To Your Self Talk

Many of the poor behaviors that you have tolerated during the holidays are rooted in the painful memories of the past. Remember that the experience that you are going through today is expounded by the similar painful experiences of the past. Your brain is just like a computer that quickly scans the files to see what events were similar and transfers the emotions into your current situation. Talk to yourself and realize you are no longer that vulnerable child, or dorky adolescent, and your failures of the past DO NOT define your today or tomorrow. Too often people are their own worst enemy, attacking themselves. If no one is present to support you, be a friend to yourself.

  • Have Healthy And Reasonable Expectations

If you expect the “perfect holiday,” a “perfect family,” “perfect gifts,” and the “perfect meal,” you may be sorely disappointed. Don’t catastrophize when things are not perfect. Learn to roll with the punches and accept things as they are. This will greatly reduce your stress level.

Accept the members of your family, flaws, bumps, and bruises just as they are right now. Don’t try to change them. This can be the root cause of your frustration. Not only is it not likely, but it is unhealthy to try to fix, rescue, and repair the people in your life. Each individual chooses their behaviors and consequences and you can’t make other people happy or give them a positive

Here is the truth, when you want or expect others to change and be different than they are, you end up disappointed. Hoping that they will act differently, and trying to bring about the change will only drive you crazy. Accepting them as they are doesn’t mean that you approve or condone their behaviors; it simply means you stop expecting them to be different.

  • Choose Your Battles And Set Boundaries

When something bothers you, turning the other cheek is usually your safest choice. Of course there are exceptions when you need to speak up for yourself, leave the situation, or set boundaries. If situations are difficult, have a prepared plan to remove yourself from the situation if need be. Simply move to another room or a strike up a conversation with another family member if the situation feels toxic. Just physically remove yourself from the person who is upsetting you. Family time during the holidays is relatively short and infrequent, so remind yourself that if you’re offended it will be over soon and it may be best to just let it go.

  • Don’t Defend Yourself

If you get upset resist the urge to fight back as it will likely escalate the situation. Family should compromise and not be in competition. If there are challenges, nobody has to “win.” Don’t allow yourself to be sucked into a competition of scoring points on each other. When you personally accept yourself, flaws, and failures you can release the urge to defend yourself. You do not need to prove anything to anyone. Don’t explain and defend yourself when attacked, just remove yourself from the situation and allow it to be someone else’s issue and don’t make it your own.

  • Have A Focal Point Object

If you have very painful family interactions give yourself an extra shot of strength to make it through by having a focal point. This could be a ring with “hope” scrolled across it or a key chain that says that “you can do all things.” Anything that keeps you focused on being an overcomer and not a victim of circumstances. Look at it and remind yourself that you can be self controlled, make wisechoices and will navigate through every situation.

  • Take Responsibility

Last, but certainly not least is taking responsibly. Look at the messages that you send through speech, behaviors, and body language, and take responsibility for those messages. If you sent a message that you didn’t mean, or realize it hurt a family member, sincerely apologize for your role in the disagreement. Then you can put it behind you and move on. It never hurts to say you’re sorry when someone receives something the wrong way even if you feel you didn’t do anything wrong.
If you make an effort to be the best that you can be, then you can navigate through any situation that you may face. Remember to evaluate your situation, validate how you feel, and then make the choice to respond in a healthy, self-controlled manner with quality life skills. Identify the messages that you sent and take responsibility for them. Through every challenge remember that iron sharpens iron and difficult people are your greatest teachers. They test your limits and help you grow. You can identify facts, set boundaries, and still love unconditionally.


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Dr. Michele

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