Let’s face it, for some of us, the holidays are more like a horror film than a Hallmark movie. Our families don’t always get along and every dinner doesn’t end on a happy note.
Patients often come back to me after the holidays with terrible stories of holiday gatherings gone wrong that have led to some sort of worsening of depression or anxiety. Every time, I ask if this was the first time this has happened and the answer is always “no”.
Each person is able to admit that they could have predicted this level of holiday drama but they are always hopeful that this time will be different. While we want to believe that people can change, we have to remember that the best predictor of future behavior is past behavior and plan our holidays with that in mind.
Don’t be so hard on yourself –The behavior of those who disrupt our gatherings has everything to do with them and very little, if anything, to do with us. It is notuncommon for those present to think they could have done something different to prevent this from happening and take the events very personal.
They may find themselves planning annually to try to prevent the drama, only to find themselves disappointed due to the behavior of others. You are not responsible for the behavior of others. You can put forth the best holiday spread imaginable and provide the warmest environment, but that may not be enough to stop people from acting out.
1. Give Yourself Permission to “Check Out” if Necessary
There is no written rule that you need to be at every family function from start until finish. As a matter of fact, to preserve your mental health you may have to find ways to step away. Going late, leaving early, or finding moments to take breaks for relaxation and deep breathing can be lifesavers for moments like these.
2. Set Firm Boundaries
If you have a repeat offender relative who tends to be the primary disrupter on the holidays, set boundaries with that person before the event. It helps if youhave the support of other relatives.
Being firm with that individual about what behavior is problematic, how it affects everyone else, and what you all plan to do if the person doesn’t respect the boundaries being set can help with creating a more peaceful day.
The best boundaries are clear and concise with no room for misunderstanding. Boundaries that are too loose don’t typically stop the behavior. Boundaries that are too firm and rigid, tend to be unrealistic and set the person up for failure. As difficult as it sounds, practice makes perfect!
Taking the time to prepare for the drama we know is likely coming is the best way to deal with family drama. We can’t pick our family and we can’t prevent all the drama. With some planning on our part and setting realistic expectations we can decrease our level of surprise and disappointment when it comes our way.