We all have this picture of what the perfect holiday is. It might be something from a TV movie, that sickening Instagram feed or Pinterest board. More often than not our holidays fall short of that view. After all, we live in a real world. We just keep forgetting this when the holiday season rolls around.
The holidays may be even harder when you have a dysfunctional family that never acts normal any time of the year. You can’t expect to have everyone immediately change to happy-go-lucky people who forgive everything ever done just for the holidays. We love to create those templates of how we expect the family get together to go, but the minute it goes astray, anxiety kicks in followed by anger or a lot of drinking.
But you can still find ways to enjoy the holidays without the Grinches stealing your plans.
Your Holiday Survival Plan
The first thing you want to do is to lower your expectations. You probably have high expectations of what you want, and it is going to be a recipe for disaster since most of us have family members that totally drive us insane. Know that it’s not going to be perfect and learn to enjoy it as it is.
Let Those Old Wounds Bleed
Another thing to remember is that you aren’t going to heal old wounds. Instead, when dealing with a crazy and difficult family, keep your conversations light. Don’t get drawn into their drama or begin a debate with them. Instead of lashing out, excuse yourself from the room. It’s not necessary to apologize or make excuses. At all costs, religion and politics are to be avoided.
Don’t expect them to change who they are. If they are the relative that drinks too much and gets obnoxious, don’t expect them to be any different. Or if it’s the brother’s new wife who acts like she is a step above the family, be prepared for it. Hoping people will be different will only lead to you being disappointed.
Figure out how to have fun with the dysfunction by having a positive attitude. The troubles often arrive during unstructured family time so instead plan things for everyone to do. Try watching a favorite family movie or playing a game that involves everyone.
Don’t Take That Bait
Of course, don’t take things personally. Set boundaries. How others act or talk is a reflection of them. It has nothing to do with you. Remind yourself not to take the bait when hurtful comments are said and instead seek to remain calm. Be willing to forgive.
Have a few go-to coping strategies set up for things you think will happen. Drive your own car, for instance, so you can leave if you need to. Take a walk when it feels like things are becoming too heated. Don’t instantly lash out when your mom tells you that you don’t need any more pie or Uncle Ted begins debating politics after he’s indulged in too much alcohol.
Control Yourself Not Others
Take control over what you can control: your thoughts. No matter what someone does or says to hurt or offend you, they cannot control your thoughts. So laugh to yourself, think what you want, and love yourself while visiting with your dysfunctional family.
Create Your Joy
Create moments of joy that are special to you. Forget about having that perfect holiday. Find the good in others, even the ones who irritate you or have hurt you. Worst case scenario is you can walk away from this holiday season feeling like you’re growing.
Remember this is real life. We all have family members that can drive us crazy. And then when we attempt to stick them all together at one table, engorging on carbs, sugar, and alcohol, you can expect at least a little disaster. The trick to surviving it is how you react to it. When you know someone is trying to push your buttons, you can push their buttons harder by pretending you’re not aware of what they’re doing and kill them with a smile.