Relatives behaving badly over the holidaysWill the cure for dealing with difficult relatives over the holidays be found in the pumpkin pie?

In hushed-tone conversations over coffee and after yoga, private truths exhale about certain family members.

For trusted ears only, we find ourselves willing and needing, to unload descriptions and predictions about relatives who reliably create aggravation at the holiday table.

We come face-to-face with sayings that seems like they were written just for us when we go in to preparation mode for the holidays. Adages like these:

  • You can choose your friends but you can’t choose your family.
  • I love family member “x” but at times I really don’t like them.

It comes to my attention that, even more than the holiday preparations of shopping, cooking and decorating, ONE thing takes up more than it’s share of space and energy. That thing: how to keep from “losing it”—our decorum, our sense of self—in close quarters, in the company of difficult relatives.

So, Who are these people anyway?

It’s easy to identify attributes of relatives who rub us the wrong way. Recognize any of these types?

o The my-way-or-the-highway relative. Harbors strong, at times extreme views about politics, society and traditions. Keen to not only be seen as expert, but heard, repeatedly and for long periods of time. May appear dogmatic or unyielding.

o The pushy relative. Full of advice for others who didn’t request it. How she would dress your child to go outside. Where she would seat your dinner guests. What he would say to your boss to get that long overdue raise. May appear unaware that others don’t seek or use of their advice.

o The dramatic “all about me” relative. Takes up a lot of space and attention with a seemingly endless list of individual needs, wants and disappointments. Her ongoing relationship fiascos. His envy that other grandchildren actually call their grandparents. Appear not to notice that others have their own challenges and that the all-about-me pattern limits them from enjoying their family, and their family from enjoying them.

In large part, the more awareness we bring to the situation, the more ability we have to enhance rather than endure being in difficult company over the holidays.

Do You Fall into these Common Traps?

You try to please everyone. At the expense of yourself, you bury your voice and your needs.

You become reactive. You get sucked into another person’s playbook and act in ways that cause discomfort, embarrassment or remorse.

You’re determined. This time you will change them, make them understand, behave differently.

You sink into depression or despair. You feel powerless in their company.

What’s your default response? Now imagine what it would  be like to choose an empowering response instead.

7 Highly Effective Antidotes to Nourish Your Holiday Spirit

It helps to remember that relationships develop over time, change is a process, and taking small steps are better than taking no steps to improve a relationship or situation.

Here are some things you can do to empower yourself in the company of others over the holidays.

ONE. Be honest. So-and-so pushes your buttons. Don’t push it down or away. Own it. But don’t cling too tightly.

TWO. Set a positive intention for the time you’re together. Something like “I will know and spread peace” or “I will do my part to feel the way I want to feel in this situation.” Connecting with a clear, powerful intention helps create fresh experiences.

THREE. Acceptance. There is no perfect family, no matter what others’ families look like from the outside. Allow for what is, rather than expecting an ideal that cannot be.

FOUR. Gratitude. Even though someone drives you crazy, there are still things to be grateful for about that person. They raised your spouse or partner, love your children, bring a scrumptious apple cobbler for the family to enjoy. Find that kernel of gratitude and let it expand.

FIVE. Compassion and Forgiveness. The way in is LOVE, not like. How can you see those around the holiday table through a lens of love? Forgiving imperfections in someone else helps you hold onto yours less tightly.

SIX. Small Steps. What small steps can you take— notice when you need to step outside for some air, change the topic of conversation when it begs for changing, be true to your values—even in the presence of difficult relatives?

SEVEN. Give and Receive. Giving is important but it’s not all about giving to others. Give yourself what you need to go into the situation feeling grounded. Set self-compassionate boundaries. Allow yourself to receive.

So, here you have it—7 ways to infuse your holiday gatherings with more sanity, grace and peace.

I’d love to know, what’s your favorite way to deal with difficult relatives over the holidays? Tell us on the Facebook Page.

And don’t forget to join me on Tuesday, November 4, 2014 at 12:00 noon EST for my free monthly coaching call.

We’ll discuss ways to reduce holiday stress with difficult relatives for the upcoming season. Sign up in the form below to receive reminders and dial-in information. Start early and be prepared this holiday season!

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