Christmas and the surrounding holidays provide an opportunity for celebrations and get-togethers with family members. For some, the Christmas season is truly a celebration. For others, the holidays are a time of disappointment, hurt, and conflict related to family problems and conflicts that are managed at a distance the rest of the year.
Some people deliberately avoid family members with whom they have issues during the year until Christmas time when traditions include getting together with family. Just because we may be Christians does not make us exempt from family problems.
For those who have abusive family members, or family members who abuse drugs and alcohol, or have psychiatric problems, the thought of getting together can be painful. Many feel obligated to get together rather than make a scene or make a statement by their conspicuous absence.
Common issues that emerge at this time of year may include:
Family members who drink too much, or may be under the influence of drugs which modify moods, and sometimes make those using them combative, or socially inappropriate in other ways
Some family members have psychiatric problems which interfere with their ability to behave properly in relationships and in social settings
Family members who have long standing conflicts and where deep wounds still exist from the past
Parts of the family which have been fractured by marital problems or divorce
Some parts of the family who live very different and incompatible lifestyles, or who may hold to extremely different beliefs and values that are offensive
Any of these situations can lead to tension, anxiety, and a sense of dread in getting together for the holidays. These conflicts also lead to feelings of depression, sadness, guilt, resentments, anger, and a tendency to relive the old hurts.
To handle the anticipated unpleasant get-togethers with some of these troublesome people, consider several strategies:
It is often best to meet at someone else’s house so you can leave when you want to. It is more difficult to get someone to leave your house when you no longer feel comfortable.
Choose not to be alone with the ones you have the most trouble with. Stay with those in the group you feel most safe around. Possibly discuss with the ones who have the most understanding of the problem your need to have a “buddy,” or someone to run interference for you.
Keep visits with the troublesome people short. If conflict emerges, excuse yourself and go lock yourself in the bathroom for a few minutes. If conflict subsides, stay a little longer. If the level of conflict or emotional distress rises to an uncomfortable level, express that you don’t feel well (which will likely be true) and excuse yourself and leave the gathering.
Drive yourself to the event or get-together, or have someone drive you that will agree to leave the event when you are ready to leave.
In these ways, you can participate in a limited way without having to either make yourself too uncomfortable or eliminate yourself completely from the family gathering. Also, family therapy for extended or family-of-origin issues can empower you and help you know your options for keeping your peace during the holidays.
Written by Dale Doty, M.S.W., Ph.D.