Managing Challenging Family Dynamics During the Holiday Season

By Viviana Villalobos, LP

As the holidays quickly approach some people look forward to spending time with loved ones, while others struggle with challenging family dynamics and the ever-evolving relationships with various family members. So, what can you do this holiday season to navigate this? Plenty.

Put yourself in the driver’s seat

You have the ability to steer conflict with family members where you want it to go. This doesn’t mean it will go how you want it to, but you can minimize the effect it will have on you and those around you.  Expect that your buttons will be pushed and take steps to mentally prepare accordingly. Take a deep breath and then another and remind yourself “I will get through this.”

Accept your family for who they are

Sometimes our given families (as opposed to those we choose) cause us the most stress. Acknowledging who your family is and changing your expectations can be helpful. Be prepared to accept your family for who they are if you plan on being around them this holiday season. For example, knowing that your distant cousin will try and provoke anger about politics and being ready for this prior to getting together. Have a friend be ready to call/text you with a funny emoji/meme or joke that makes you laugh when you find yourself feeling overwhelmed with family.

Appreciate your chosen family

Begin to appreciate your chosen family. Begin to spend more time with friends and coworkers who you cherish and have invited to be close to you. They are some of the individuals that will support you in your day-to-day life when other family dynamics are confusing and complicated.

Strengthen family relationships

The holidays can be a good time to move past family conflict and begin to heal. Consider having family dinners that are not under the pressure of a holiday meal. Connect virtually with family that live far away. The use of Facetime, Skype, Zoom, etc. have made it easy to connect to anyone worldwide.

Create new traditions

Studies have found that adding new traditions to include the growing evolving family unit can strengthen your overall relationships. New stepchildren, in-laws, nieces/nephews? The holidays would be a great time to have them feel welcomed by creating new memories and traditions that can be revisited yearly.

Take a break

Being surrounded by family can become overwhelming. Find reasons to give yourself a break to go for a walk around the block, run to the convenience store, anything to set some needed boundaries and time to breathe. Try grounding yourself with deep and slow breathing to help decrease any anxious feelings that may arise.

Become an observer

Take time to step back and observe the shifting family dynamic. Take a look at how everyone interacts with one another. Give yourself permission to relax and not be pulled into conflictual situations that may be stress-inducing.

The holidays can be a special time depending how you choose to spend it. When things become overwhelming remember to identify what you are grateful for. Gratitude helps to focus on the good that we have in our lives and what is really important to us. Most importantly, have compassion for yourself and loved ones. Everyone is doing the best that they can on any given day, especially during the holidays.