Tips for Surviving Family Gatherings

Tips for Surviving Family Gatherings

Most of us love our family, but that does not mean we have to always like them. So, with the holidays fast approaching, it may be an excellent time to brush up on your patience and the art of agreeing to disagree.

There is a level of excitement around the holidays and being surrounded by family members, many of whom you may not have seen in a while. So, what is it about family gatherings that can reduce us to behaviours that are typically out of character for us?

Perhaps part of it is out of habit. Even though we have all grown up and have families of our own, family members still try to cast you into a role or behaviours you exhibited in the past. Keep in mind you may only see some members of your family during the holiday,s, so they are not privy to who you are now.  

There may also be unresolved conflicts or past hurts that have not been mended, and some people bring them to every family gathering. Even on an unconscious level, a past experience may still be lingering and takes only a flicker of a match to reignite the past.

Add alcohol to the mix, and inner inhibitions or that voice meant to stay in your head tends to become audible to everyone.

Set your expectations in advance. You are likely aware of your family dynamics, so decide the type of person you want to be at this holiday and stick to your plan. Show up neutral, and don't try to use a family gathering to resolve any past conflict. Try not to be the person that "pokes the bear" this holiday; be the person that brings everyone back to common ground.

Encourage everyone that is attending the gathering to bring their favourite holiday dish. (Keep track of who is bringing what so you don't overlap and cause a "compare the dish situation" To break the ice and start your gathering on the right note, ask each person to introduce their dish and why it is their favourite. You may learn something that you did not know about each other

If you sense a debate starting, don't let yourself get drawn into the argument. It is very difficult for a person to argue with themselves so keep calm. Show interest in the other person's opinions and respect that the other person's’’perception of the truth may be different than your own or may even be far from the factual truth. Still, it is not your responsibility to change their perception or reality. Instead, try this statement. "I respect that is your perception of the situation, but mine is different, so to be fair, lets just agree to see things differently."

Stop an argument before it begins by jokingly saying, "Oh, let's not go down that road again, lets just agree to disagree."

When in doubt about what to say when tensions start to rise, or if you feel your feathers are getting ruffled about a situation, the fastest way to diffuse the situation is just to stop talking. Try to avoid giving your opinion. Instead, listen to the other person. A high percentage of the time, a person does not want your opinion. They just want to be heard. Try saying,' I have heard you. If you want my help or thoughts, please let me know."

Family can sometimes be the cruellest to the ones we love, perhaps because we believe that no matter how badly we behave, they will always love us.   But family or not, some things said are just hurtful. Don't deny your hurt but do not lash back either. Instead, stop the conversation by letting the other person know they hurt your feelings. You can say something like. "Ouch, that really hurt my feelings; perhaps we should change the topic."

Try to be more creative with the seating arrangements- if you know that certain people are notorious for getting into arguments with one another. Don't sit them across from one another. Try assigning seating this year. It could be a fun way to encourage more conversations.

If your family thrives on drama, try to change the dynamic this year by coming to the gathering with some light-hearted topics in mind to bring up.   Or plan some activities. Cookie decorating is a fun way to encourage togetherness, and keeping everyone occupied on a task is a great way to keep them less likely to feel the need to debate recent news events. You can also play games as long as your family is not overly competitive. If so, avoid playing games that will get people fired or require you to group people and have them pit against each other. Instead, choose games where an individual is responsible for their outcome.

Count on yourself to keep perspective

How others behave is not a reflection on you, it is on them.   How you choose to behave is your responsibility, so recognize your triggers and as difficult as it may be, try not to react to them if they come up. Remind yourself this is one moment, one night, and when it ends, you will go home, and your life will go on.  

Reminder! Very few family holidays play out like a scene from Norman Rockwell. The photos you see all over social media are a snapshot of one moment when things were going well. You most likely will not see posts with food being pitched at one another across the table. Keep things in perspective.


Give Yourself Permission to Breathe

Wherever you are in your life, we hope you give yourself permission to breathe. We hope that you take time every day to take stock of all the amazing parts of yourself, and you check personal criticism at the door.

The world we live in today is not easy; demands and stresses are bearing down on us every day. Our hope for you is that in a world that is always rushing, you can find a moment of stillness in your life to just be in the moment.   Whatever that moment is.

If you feel grief, give yourself permission to feel it. If you feel tired, give yourself permission to take a rest. If you feel joy, then allow yourself to celebrate happiness. If you are not sure what you are feeling, release the pressure of trying to define the feelings and just be in the moment

Whatever happened today, this week or this month, give yourself “Permission to Breathe

  • To remember
  • To honour
  • To celebrate
  • To nurture
  • To practice thankfulness
  • To laugh
  • To cry
  • To Breathe

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