Family gatherings can be very painful experiences when you are going through hard things in your life. These well-meaning people who haven’t seen you in a while are probably going to ask questions about your relationship status, how your career is going, and where you are in your life. If you don’t have good answers to these questions, this can trigger feelings of failure and loss.
Here are a few do’s and don’ts for surviving family parties in a healthy way:
Keep fears in mind
If you have relatives who are hard to get along with, remember their bad behavior is often driven by their fears about themselves. If you choose to see them as scared (versus just being a jerk), you will have more compassion and will be less likely to take their comments personally.
Be sensitive about what your relatives might have experienced this last year and be careful what you say or ask. People who are struggling with something can be delicate and easy to offend. This year has been a rough year for many, so keep that in mind.
Create an emergency signal
Create an emergency hand signal and arrange with your spouse to rescue you from annoying relatives.
Be a strategic host
If you are hosting a holiday dinner, use place cards and arrange seating to keep touchy family members away from one another.
Be kind and let things go
Be patient and let unkind comments roll off. Remember, all bad behavior is a request for love. The worse the behavior, the more that person needs love and validation. Treat them with kindness, even when they don’t deserve it.
Don’t take anything personally. If someone says something mean, let it go. It’s not really about you; it’s about their fear and low self-esteem. They may feel like they have to put down others to feel good enough. Choose not to be offended and let them keep their negative energy to themselves.
Be a good listener
Ask lots of safe questions and let other people talk. Allowing another person to do the talking makes them feel valued at the deepest level. Be someone who cares enough to listen.
Avoid telling a story to top someone else’s. Let them have the spotlight and practice not needing it yourself.
Pay lots of compliments. Compliment everyone at the party. If you focus on giving validation to others, you won’t worry about yourself as much.
Be the love in the room. Be there to make others feel loved and valued. Don’t worry about whether they love you, just be there to give.
Consider not attending
If you can’t be around certain people without feeling discouraged, depressed or upset, it’s OK to decide not to attend the party at all. Start a new tradition and do something different instead. Get friends together and spend the holidays with the people you choose to be around.
Young adults would rather you didn’t ask about personal matters such as school or whether they are dating anyone. It’s better if you ask what they do for fun or what great movies they have seen lately. These topics are safer and less likely to embarrass them.
Don’t try to convert or lecture anyone on your ideas, beliefs or opinions. This party is not the right time for a debate. Obviously, don’t bring up controversial topics like politics or religion.
Drink too much
Don’t drink too much, especially if it tends to make you more confrontational or easily upset. Avoid sarcasm, correcting or criticizing anyone.
Remember, you are not responsible for other people’s happiness. If others choose to complain about the food, gossip about others, or share their woes too freely, leave the room, ignore them, or change the subject.
Give anyone the power to hurt you
Dealing with family members can be tricky because you care more about what they think than others. These are people who should love and support you, so when they don’t it hurts. Decide before your family event to trust that no one can diminish your value in any way. You have the same value as every other human soul and nothing can change that. This will make you more bulletproof.
If someone offers unsolicited advice, just smile and thank them. People often give advice to make themselves feel important too. It’s not really about you; don’t waste time being bothered by it.
When your family is hard to deal with, remember that these people are in your life for a reason: to help you become a better person. Their job in your classroom (life) journey might be to push your buttons and bring your fears and bad behavior into the light so you can work on them.
Ask yourself what dealing with your specific relatives could teach you. How could their annoying tendencies give you the perfect opportunity to practice being more loving, mature and calm? If you see them as your perfect teachers and try to use these experiences to grow and learn, you will at least feel good about yourself on the way home.
You can do this.
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Kimberly Giles is the president and founder of Claritypoint Life Coaching and 12 SHAPES INC. She is an author and professional speaker. She was named one of the top 20 advice gurus in the country by Good Morning America in 2010. She appears regularly on local and national TV and Radio.