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How to Deal with Family Gatherings and Difficult Relatives During the Holidays

By HERWriter
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Mental Health related image Photo: Getty Images

The holidays are all about family gatherings, but in some cases this isn’t the most pleasant experience. The dysfunctional family holiday dinners can be seen in almost every seasonal movie or TV show.

However, some experts have suggestions for how to deal with those difficult family members who don’t understand the concept of being merry and loving during the holidays.

“We spend three weeks rehearsing to ourselves how bad it’s going to be, so by the time we get there, we’re already mad,” said Pauline Wallin, a clinical psychologist in Pennsylvania and the author of “Taming Your Inner Brat: A Guide for Transforming Self-Defeating Behavior.”

“Consider that you’re going to be there maybe three or four hours, or if you have to stay, 48 hours. Who hasn’t had to do something for work or for school that was a little bit stressful and then it’s over?”

She said attitude is everything.

“If you go in with ‘Well, I can do anything for a couple hours,’ you’re going to be a lot less stressed,” Wallin said.

It’s important to make that appearance and to be part of the family.

“You never know when you’re going to need that family,” Wallin said. “Just because certain people annoy you now, doesn’t mean that they wouldn’t be the first by your side if something happened.”

If the inevitable happens and family members start bickering, she suggests pretending as if you’re watching a movie.

“If you’re watching a movie, you’re a little bit detached,” Wallin said. “You’re observing, but you’re not involved.”

It can be difficult dealing with overcritical family members, because when someone attacks you with criticism, the instinct is to defend yourself or attack back.

“Instead of defending yourself, just agree,” Wallin said.

She gives an example of a family member saying that you’ve put on some weight. You would just say “Yeah.” That doesn’t give them much wiggle room.

“Remember that those kinds of comments reveal more about the other person than they do about you, and that is key,” Wallin said. “It takes the sting from a Level 8 out of 10 to maybe a 5.”

If someone asks a critical “why” question, she suggests just saying “I don’t know.”

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EmpowHER Guest

You never met my family. I start drinking at 10:30 on Thanksgiving, plug in my ear buds, smile like an idiot and put one foot in front of the other until it's over.

August 1, 2016 - 12:45am

It can be difficult to deal with family members very critical, because when someone attacks you with the critical instinct is to defend or attack back.

November 26, 2010 - 11:04am
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We value and respect our HERWriters' experiences, but everyone is different. Many of our writers are speaking from personal experience, and what's worked for them may not work for you. Their articles are not a substitute for medical advice, although we hope you can gain knowledge from their insight.