5 Ways to Deal with a Difficult Family Member Over the Holidays

Here’s how to ward off negativity this season.

Reconnecting with family makes the holiday season a fun and exciting time of year for most. But for some, being surrounded by family over the holidays can bring with it intense feelings of anxiety and depression, especially if particular family members are difficult.

Leo Tolstoy summed this up perfectly in his novel, Anna Karenina: “Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” For a family to be happy, it must demonstrate mutual respect, accept and respect differences, allow space for talking through conflicts and be able to show genuine care and love. That’s often not the case with dysfunctional families, who are always in conflict. Neglecting one another’s needs can lead to emotional or physical abuse. To avoid those situations and foster a more cheerful environment, try these five methods.

  1. Spend time doing what makes you happy. Spending time with difficult family members can be emotionally draining, physically exhausting and can erode self-esteem. Doing something that brings you joy will help you recharge.
  2. Surround yourself with people you enjoy. Although we don’t have control over the families we are born into, we can control whom we decide to surround ourselves with, so make frequent plans to see friends.
  3. Set realistic expectations. Accept that you have a difficult family and that they may cause some limitations on holiday spirit.
  4. Give yourself permission to say no. If the emotional harm you experience when you’re with your difficult family is severe, consider not being around them. Guilt, shame and a sense of obligation may tell you otherwise, but they also may be entrapping you.
  5. Create your own holiday traditions. Host your own holiday party or dinner with friends. Starting your own traditions creates positive alternatives for ways to celebrate the holidays.

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