Will the cure for relatives behaving badly be found in pumpkin pie?

In muted conversations after yoga class, around the mahjong table and over coffee, stories confidential are ripe as autumn apples when it comes to certain family members.

For trusted ears only, we find ourselves willing to reveal negative attitudes not easily acknowledged or expressed about relatives who behave badly who will be part of our holiday celebrations.

We come face-to-face with sayings that seem 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 pick your family.
  • I love family member “x” but I really don’t like them.

It comes to my attention that, more than the shopping, food preparation, and home decorating, ONE thing takes up a lot 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 family.

So, Who are these people anyway?

It’s an easy exercise to identify personality qualities of family members who rub us the wrong way. Recognize any of these types?

  • The my-way-or-the-highway relative. Harbors strong, at times extreme views about politics, society, and traditions. Keen to be not only seen as expert, but heard, repeatedly and for long periods of time. May appear dogmatic or unyielding.
  • The pushy relative. Full of advice for others who didn’t request it. How she would dress your child to go outside. How he would seat your coat guests. What she would say to your boss to get you a raise. May appear unaware that others don’t value her advice, nor do they use it. Ever.
  • The drama relative, it’s all about “me.” Takes up a lot of space and attention with a seemingly endless list of their individual needs, wants and disappointments. His doctor visits, her relationship messes, his envy of other grandchildren that actually call their grandparents. Appears not to notice that others have their own challenges and that the pattern of all about me keeps them from enjoying the family.

As you were reading, did you associate your relative-behaving-poorly with a type? If I was a betting woman, I’d say that if you pause now to check in with your physical sensations, it’s likely you feel tight or airless somewhere in your body, just by unconsciously conjuring up an image of that person. What do you notice?

In large part, the more awareness we bring to the situation, the more inclined we are to improve it rather than endure it.

Common Traps

  • You try to please everyone. At the expense of yourself. You bury your self and your needs.
  • You become reactive. Get sucked into someone else’s playbook.
  • You’re determined. This time you will change them, make them understand, behave differently.
  • You sink into depression or despair. Feel powerless in their company.

Check in with yourself: what’s your reflexive, go-to response?

What would it be like to change what’s in your control, your own response?


7 Highly Effective Antidotes to Nourish (Not Deplete) 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 any relationship or situation.

Here are some things you can do to feel empowered and be in healthy relationship with your self and others during the holidays.

  1. Be honest. So-and-so pushes your buttons. Don’t push it down or away. Own it. But don’t cling too tightly.
  2. Set a positive intention for the time you’re together. Something like “I will know and spread peace.” What intention holds meaning for you? Consciously connecting with a powerful intention helps clear and open the pathway for new possibilities.
  3. Acceptance. This is not a Hollywood movie and there is no perfect family, no matter what others’ families look like from the outside. There will be disagreements, and disapprovals, and there will be common understanding and joy. Allow for what is, rather than expecting an ideal that cannot be.
  4. 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, contribute a scrumptious pumpkin pie to the family dinner. Find that kernel of gratitude and let it expand.
  5. Compassion and Forgiveness. The way in is LOVE, not like. How can you see everyone around your holiday table through a lens of love? Forgiving someone else for imperfections helps you hold yours less tightly.
  6. Time and Space. Sometimes it’s useful to discuss in advance, how long will you stay? How long will they stay (at your house)? What small steps can you take—are you willing to: 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?
  7. 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. Allow yourself to receive. This is not a mental exercise. This, when activated, is the fountain of sanity, ease and in the spirit of the season–grace.

NOW, OVER TO YOU!  DO YOU RELATE? ADD YOUR COMMENT AND BECOME PART OF THE CONVERSATION.  What’s YOUR greatest challenge with difficult people over the holidays? Which antidotes fortify and empower you?  What other tips and strategies do you find helpful?

©2013 idecidecoach and Gail Gaspar