1. Decide on the fun energizing relatives you do want to spend time with and seek them out upon your arrival.
2. Know how long you plan to stay before you arrive. Let your host know when you expect to leave. Schedule another stop right after the event so you feel you have a good reason to leave when you said you were going to.
3. Don’t walk into the unexpected. Know who is going to be there. Bring someone with you.
4. Create an “escape word” or phrase so that your partner, spouse or friend will help you make a quick exit if the need arises. “Didn’t we need to call your uncle before 7:30?” will work just fine.
5. Don’t arrive overly hungry. Low blood sugar makes anxiety worse and can make the best intentions turn cranky.
6. Get enough sleep. Exhaustion during the holidays makes every little disappointment seem monumental. Make sure you are rested before socializing with a difficult relative.
7. Do not drink too much. Chemically lowering your inhibitions may lead you to say things or start things you will regret later.
8. Don’t try to convince or educate the difficult relative. This is not the time to “train” them to act appropriately. “Constructive criticism” will only be taken as judgment and belittlement. Remember the only person you can ever change is yourself!
9. Leave the past in the past (even if it was just last week). Try to be present for this specific event. (You can always pick up your resentment again after the holidays.)
10. Don’t defend yourself or others against current or past accusations. Allow the difficult relative to hold a “misconception” of you or a loved one. They really don’t need to “understand.” Defensive evidence will just be seen as an invitation to debate “facts.” If challenged, walk away, engage with others or leave.
11. If you have done something that you are embarrassed about, forgive yourself. The faster you show compassion for yourself the easier it will be to have compassion for your difficult relative.
12. Don’t personalize inappropriate behavior. Your difficult relative may have the disease of addiction or a mental illness, and probably treats many people just the way they treat you. Remember it’s “not about you.”
Give yourself credit for making the holiday memories you wish to remember!
© 2011 Lois V. Nightingale is a licensed Psychologist PSY9503 , Licensed Marriage Family Child Therapist, providing counseling services to individuals, families, couples, marriage counseling, child and teen counseling in Yorba Linda, and Orange County, California