Avoid family clashes during holiday season

Columnist and Columnist

With Thanksgiving just around the corner, many of us are making plans to go home and spend time with our immediate and extended families.

For some, Thanksgiving and subsequent holiday get-togethers make for a fun, relaxing time of year. For others, it’s a wild rollercoaster ride that’s sometimes difficult to get through unscathed.

As Tamar Chansky writes in her piece, “Surviving Holiday Family Gatherings” for Psychology Today, “It’s a party. It’s a zoo. It’s your relatives. You go in with an open heart, and they do surgery. OK, maybe it’s not that bad. OK, maybe it is.”

It seems that the same old fights, speeches, jokes and bad attitudes play out like a broken record every year.

So, how can you make it through the holidays this year without wanting to make a midnight escape back to your apartment?

By putting yourself first as much as you can.

Use the time you have until Thanksgiving to think about what you like and don’t like about going home for the holidays and make a plan to avoid as much unpleasantness as possible.

“Compartmentalize,” Dr. Chansky advises. “Contain the spill, and enjoy every thing and every one else around it.”

For example, if you know your nosey uncle will bring up something about your life that you really don’t want to talk about over turkey, know that you simply don’t have to. It’s okay to change the subject and hold firm on your decision to just say ‘no.’

Likewise, if it’s common knowledge that, after a certain amount of beers, your cousin gets kind of nasty, relocate. Go to a different part of the house and join the conversation between your parents and grandma.

Chansky writes, “If we can’t change other people, if they’re just plain unwilling to budge, we can make the move and adjust and adapt to what we expect of them. Not to let that other person off the hook necessarily, but for ourselves. Expect the expected, or expect nothing.”

Once you’ve dealt with the expected through your predetermined contingency plans, you can let yourself be happily surprised by the unexpected, like a sweet comment made about you by your grandpa.

Another good plan is to pack things that give you comfort and peace of mind that you can turn to during your stay with the family.

Books, games, your laptop or even just some extra cash so you can duck out and see a movie when things get heavy will work wonders, reminding you that you can take control of yourself even though everyone else may be losing control of themselves.

Chansky asserts, “You had your life and everything you needed before you stepped into the gathering, and it will be waiting for you at the other side of it, too. Whatever happens in between does not change that fact. … This isn’t your whole life, it’s just one slice (or sliver) of a big pie: it’s just your life there.”

You’ve gotten through the holidays before, and you will again. It won’t last forever.

Take a few time outs for yourself and you’ll remember this.

Finally, keep in mind the reasons for which you still make the trip home: to see your grandparents light up when they’re surrounded by all their grandchildren, to catch up with your cousins, to feel like a kid again with your siblings or even just to spend time with your pets.

Focus all your attention on the positives and you’ll be more likely to sidestep any negatives that come your way.

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