4 keys to use in order to deal with difficult family members during the holidays
The holidays are supposed to be times of peace, joy and good tidings. But for millions of families around the world, it will be anything but a peaceful, relaxing occasion.
From bickering relatives, to alcoholic moms and or dads, to siblings that have never let go of years of resentments… The holidays can be quite challenging – far from “The Hallmark card” description of bliss and inner peace.
So what are the patterns that you noticed in your past holidays that don’t seem to work for you? Most of us, if we look deeply enough, will see a repetition over the years of the same issues, the same challenges, the same problems… But we keep going back for more.
Too many times, we will not look at our role in the dysfunction of family holidays. We want to blame everyone else. But, the only common denominator in all of our dysfunctional holiday events is our return to these events expecting that this year something different will happen. It never does, and it never will, until we do something that will change our approach to the holidays ourselves.
Perhaps you might be imagining right now, running through your brain thoughts like “but I can’t do anything about Uncle Bill’s drinking… It’s out of my control that mom enables my dad to be angry and like Scrooge during the holidays. None of these things are in my control at all. So what’s my role?”
Number one best-selling author, counselor, life coach and radio host David Essel has helped hundreds of individuals to learn how to deal in a different way with family members that may not represent what the holidays are all about.
Below are four essential keys to help you deal with difficult family members during the holiday season.
Number one. The first problem with many holidays, when we return home, wherever home might be, is that we have unrealistic expectations of how this year might be different than the past. We have to stay in reality. No matter how all optimistic you might be – if family members have not done the work to heal their past you’re probably going to walk into the same environment this year as you have in the past.
So if you catch yourself asking “why did so-and-so have to get so drunk again” or “why did Uncle Sam or Aunt Pat had to continue bickering over dinner” or “I can’t believe mom cooked a main dish I love and forgot about my food allergy” then take notice and ask yourself was this a first time occurrence or was this a problem that you ran into before? Most likely it will be the latter
So why doesn’t it ever change or how come you thought this year would be the year that nobody gets into a shouting match at the dinner table or that you hoped at least you can make it to dessert without quarreling?
It might be that perhaps your expectations are unrealistic. You might be hoping for a “Hallmark card” family gathering, when in actuality, you have a comic book history of holiday experiences.
So before you go home for the holidays let’s get real. Have you struggled in the past with mom and dad? Sisters or brothers? Aunts and Uncles? Grandmothers and Grandfathers? In-laws? And if so don’t expect things to be different. Accept the reality that you’re from a dysfunctional family and if you choose to go home that most of the past will be repeated again.
Number two. Don’t stay in the house with everyone else! One of the biggest challenges we face is that we don’t want to offend people so we stay in the insanity where everyone else is staying. Get a hotel room! I don’t care if you have to stretch your budget. It will be one of the smartest things you’ll ever do. Then you can leave when you want to leave, arrive when you want to arrive, and skip all the chaos and drama that has happened in the past. You have an escape route. This is one of the smartest moves you could probably make this holiday season.
And what if people push back? What if your family members get upset because of the fact you’re setting boundaries by having a hotel room? The independent person, which is you, explains in advance what your plans are this year. You don’t surprise them by walking in and telling them that you have a hotel room. You let them know in advance. The best way to do this? Via a family e-mail. Include everyone. And tell them why, instead of staying in your home this year, you’re going to stay in a hotel. Can you be honest? Can you risk rejection? You see, this is the beginning of becoming an independent versus codependent person. The codependent person is more concerned about what everyone else thinks than taking care of themselves. The independent person understands they’re going to get pushback. There will be people who will be totally unhappy with this decision, but they do it anyway. They know sanity is much more important than anything else in this world. And they also know, that this year, they’re going to have the best holiday possible by removing the triggers from past holiday experiences that create so much drama and chaos.
This takes confidence. This takes self-esteem. And I promise you it will be more worth it then you could ever imagine. Even if people push back, and give you a hard time in the beginning.
Number three. So many arguments escalate because we have a desire to be right and we can’t let someone else be right we have to set people straight. Whether you’re talking about politics, religion, or why the economy is so good or so bad… If someone at your event has a different opinion allow them to have a different opinion. There’s no need to go to battle as you have in the past over conversations that in reality mean nothing. Bite your tongue!
David was confronted by someone who upon returning home every year would listen to her mom consistently berate her father who she divorced 10 years ago. It’s an unending series of dramatic conversations, insane conversations that she used to engage in for a number of years.
And she always loses. No matter how many times she tries to stick up for her dad her mom comes up with another experience proving that her father is deadweight unreliable and unkind. So this year it’s going to be different. She’s already made up her mind. After Essel asked her to do a series of writing exercises of what she needs to do differently this year to make the holidays more pleasant she decided that she’s going to just shut up whenever her mother brings up how terrible her father is as a former husband and even current dad.
She realizes that unless her mom decides to get help and counseling to let go of her intense resentments, the conversation is always going to go down the same path. And why do we follow that path? Why do we engage with someone who we know has a totally different opinion than ours? Well, read above. We want to be right. We want to set the record straight. In this case, she’s been trying to defend her dad for 10 years and the end result has always been intense arguments. Nothing but chaos and drama.
David also recommended that she email her mom ahead of time and tell her that this year she doesn’t have any desire to get into arguments or discussions about dad. She asked her mom to agree with her and to leave her father out of conversations while she’s at her mother’s house for the holidays. She never received a reply from her mom which tells us a lot about her mom still being in that angry, angry state.
If this is similar to how it goes in your family, then don’t expect your mom to change. Accept her as she is. She’s angry, bitter, and will not see any side other than her own until she gets help. And if she never gets help? Her opinion about this woman’s father will never change. Stop smashing your head into the wall and learn to let it go!
Number four. Forgive yourself and forgive others now. This is one of the most challenging things that people face. Forgiveness is powerful. It’s free spirit. It releases anxiety, resentment, anger, guilt, and shame. Forgiveness, as an action step, is an essential key to being able to live a healthy, productive and passionate life.
Before going home for the holidays you’ve really got to do some work to let go of the past. That means you! Not your parents, not your brothers or sisters, not your relatives, but you. If you do the work now to begin to forgive people from the past, you’ll go home with an open heart and you’ll be less argumentative in the process.
It’s not easy to forgive. If forgiveness was that easy no one in this world would ever carry resentments forward. But being a counselor for over 26 yeas and as a coach, Essel has helped thousands of people to forgive individuals who have raped them, parents who have sexually molested them, lovers who have cheated on them or stole money from them.
Forgiveness is not simply turning the other cheek. It’s much deeper than that.
Probably the most powerful form of forgiveness that David Essel believes in is done in the form of written letters that will never be sent to any of our family members, relatives or friends over the holidays.
So get out your stationary! It begins with writing about your frustration, your anger, or maybe even your rage over the years at the way people treat others or us during this time of year. It’s something in counseling called “desensitization” or rather that we continue writing about something that’s bothering us until we become bored… Numb… We become desensitized to the issue. In that state we have released our rage and anger to the point that we can probably see people who have upset us without having a knee-jerk reaction.
After we write about these people, and these situations that really bother us and we reach that point of feeling a lack of emotion to those experiences, then and only then do we begin to write letters of forgiveness.
Now when we write letters of forgiveness, just like our letters of anger and frustration, they are never sent to anyone. The reason for these letters is to be able to remove the anger and in it’s place put forgiveness. In the forgiveness letters we write to the same people and we specifically forgive them for the things they’ve done in the past that have upset us.
We forgive people first by going deeply into our anger, resentment, rage, sadness…And once all of those emotions are cleared out, then, and only then, do we even begin the process of forgiveness.”
A number of years ago David worked with a client who was so frustrated with his parents because every time he went home for the holidays they reached out to all of his former friends to let them know that their precious son will be home. So he comes in the door just wanting to spend a couple days with his family= and there’s a list of people that his mom shoves in his face year after year and tells him to call them because they want to see him.
Now, from the outsider’s point of view this is cute. Precious. Thoughtful. Sweet. His parents were doing the best they could but he wanted nothing of it. He wanted family time not to try to resurrect friendships from 30 years ago.
But because he never put his foot down and told his mom 20 years ago when this started that he wanted nothing to do with these people he would just take the list and go into his bedroom and throw it away. When his mom asked him about calling his friends he would make up some excuse of why he couldn’t do it this trip.
But after 20 years of this nagging by his mom he finally one day just lost it. He blew up. Screaming, yelling, and telling his parents he would never return home again for the holidays.
See this is what happens when you don’t take care of the issues on your own, by standing up and talking to people in a calm voice about what works, or what doesn’t work for you during the holiday season.
So I took him through the series of exercises I stated above. First he wrote about his frustration and anger at his mom and dad. After that had been released from his body he went into forgiveness.
And then he sent them a loving letter before he arrived telling them that he only had two days to spend with this precious family and he would not have any time for his friends so please don’t reach out to them.
Mom and Dad got the message clearly. And they never again tried to push him into seeing his past acquaintances. He had done it in an extremely forgiving way after he had exorcised all of his frustrations that had been building up over the years.
But it’s not simply turning the other cheek. It’s much deeper than that. Work with a counselor, therapist or a life coach to help you truly understand how to forgive your self and others now and this holiday season will be much different than the rest.
About the author:
David Essel, M. S., Is a number one best-selling author, counselor, master life coach, and international speaker whose mission is to positively affect 2 million people or more every day, regardless of their current circumstances. David’s work is also highly endorsed by the late Wayne Dyer, chicken soup for the soul’s Mark Victor Hansen, as well as many other celebrities and radio and television networks from around the United States of America. Celebrity Jenny McCarthy says “David Essel is the new leader of the positive thinking movement”. www.DavidEssel.com