Coping with Difficult Family Members this Holiday Season

February 14, 2023

By Vanessa Gonzalez

It's that time of year once again – the holiday season! That also means more opportunities to spend time with your loved ones. However, this also includes more opportunities for the stress of the season to present stress and conflict with relatives.

We all have those more complicated family members and anticipate the inevitable arguments and disagreements. However, while we may want to instantly react as we always do, it's important to remember that we can cope and choose to respond. When you don't deal with the conflict healthily, it perpetuates the never-ending narrative of the stress around that family member visiting an already stressful part of the year.

When the conflict arises, you may find yourself wanting to "fix" that person, or you may be spending a lot of trying to get them to see your viewpoint. Then, you may be seen as the "problem family member." Or the one who is always trying to argue or disagree with everyone. Yet, they're the ones instigating and baiting you into the conflict.

Then, you feel you have to defend yourself and ultimately don't win because you're gaslit into being the "issue." However, the reality is that no one needs to win, and this isn't a competition.

If you can respond effectively and calmly to a difficult family member, you can minimize the stress that person is having on you. While they try to "bait" and invoke a reaction from you, remember that you do not need to engage and react when someone is inappropriate. You can assert boundaries and have a plan of what to do if that individual continues to disrespect those boundaries – that does not mean you have to react and fix that person.

Things to remember:

· Avoid fixing your family member

· Some people are set in their own beliefs – just as you may be

· Do not take "power plays" lightly

· You have the right to set boundaries

· Speak up and assertively set your boundaries

· Use I-statements

· You have the choice of who you want to spend your time with and talk to

· Maybe they have something going on, and they are projecting onto you

· Be prepared for conflict

· Keep realistic expectations of your family members in mind – each family is different. "Hallmark" families are unrealistic.

· You cannot change people

Setting Boundaries with Loved Ones

If someone says something to your that makes you uncomfortable, reinforce your boundaries. You can say, "I'm not going to have this conversation with you." If they disrespect that boundary, you can tell them, "If you continue to talk about this, I will leave the room." While they may react angrily or upset, you have every right to set boundaries. Loved ones may not like the boundaries you set – especially during the holidays, but that doesn't mean you don't have the right to set them.

Remember – you can take a step back and remove yourself when necessary. You do not have to add the conflict. Then, when you return to the space, you may be better able to respond and actively communicate rather than react.

So, this holiday season, remember that even though you can put up with things, it does not mean that you must. Enjoy your time with your loved ones. But, most importantly, do not let yourself be so focused on the stress of the season that you miss the love and happiness that can also be shared.

Family therapy available at Juno Counseling and Wellness, serving Palm Beach Gardens, Jupiter, and Palm Beach County, Florida.