The holidays are upon us, and I always say that my therapy clients are either one or the other: They're either like, “I'll see you in a few weeks, the holidays go pretty smoothly for me." OR…. They're like, “Greta. I need you weekly. My life and family is nuts. Help.” I've heard ALL the scenarios, so I'll be doing a blog series on my favorite Mental Health Tips to Keep You Sane During the Holidays. Consider them my Christmas gifts to you beautiful people. We're gonna start with a major one…FAMILY.
If you have difficult family members...
I like to separate the process of creating boundaries into steps. > STEP ONE:
Get real with yourself about why you're visiting certain family or where you're going. Ask yourself these basic questions and act accordingly to your answer.
Do you genuinely want to go to each gathering?
If so, start making plans to visit! Go on to step 2.
Or do any of them feel like an obligation?
If so, why do you feel the need to go?
Are you putting too much pressure on yourself? Are you worried you'll let someone down? Do people simply guilt trip you?
If this gathering feels like an obligation, decide to forego the visit altogether or plan on spending less time there than you usually do. These are good "silent boundaries" that you can enact without having to verbally state them.
> > STEP TWO:
Take care of yourself before you go to these gatherings. Think about the "little things" that could be helpful to you before/during/after the visit! Here are some ideas:
Prep the food the night before. (Less stress in the morning!)
Be sure you aren't rushing the morning you're traveling. (The more zen, the better.)
Wear clothes you're comfortable in. (One less thing to annoy you throughout the day.)
Find those small tweaks that'll create more comfort for you during the day. (Sit by your favorite relative. Take deep breaths when the chaos feels overwhelming. Have activities planned for the kids.
Make the logistics simple and your comfort a priority!
Prepare mentally, too. Be aware of your expectations of others going into it - and lower those expectations if they're too high. (And, let's be honest…that can happen a lot.) > > > STEP THREE:
Practice acceptance. Sometimes your family is just going to inevitably let you down, piss you off, hurt your feelings, make you sad, etc. That's okay, too. Sometimes there's nothing we can do to change how others choose to treat us or magically fix strained relationships. Honor your feelings, allow yourself to feel all the emotions, and implement your favorite mode of self-care afterwards to self-soothe.
If political disagreements are inevitable...
This really is a hard situation to be in, especially around the holidays. Politics are so polarizing and there's going to be a difference in opinion at a lot of family gatherings this year. My hot take: that there will never be a world that everyone will be in agreement, and that includes everything ranging from economic to (sigh) social justice issues.
You have two main options when it comes to handling these really difficult and awkward conversations.
Don't go. (Remember - this IS an option!) Take advantage of your own decision-making ability and dip tf out of gatherings with people you cannot suffer listening to. (LOL - but really.) OPTION #2:
Attend the gathering and decide whether you will talk about those things or if you won't.
If you will: show that you're listening and understanding. Ask questions with an open mind. Communicating in these ways will keep things from escalating...at least on your end.
If you won't: strategize for that beforehand. Have some planned responses that divert the conversation elsewhere or that create a boundary over you and your decision to not participate in the conversation.
Plan these responses BEFORE you go! It's easy to spend a lot of time worrying about this, so try making decisions before you get there. It can help things feel more predictable because you know your plan of action, regardless of everyone else's behavior. Being proactive is almost always better than being reactive.
If political disagreements happen intensely and often enough for it to affect you negatively, you can always ask yourself if you want to keep that person in your life regardless of their beliefs or if the feelings are too strong that you need distance. And sometimes, totally cutting people off is what you gotta do. Because if the juice isn't worth the squeeze, it ain't it.
If you keep getting asked intrusive questions, like why you're single, why you don't have kids yet, etc...
Can we all give a collective "UGH"? These questions are so annoying and you'd think people would have enough tact in 2022 to find other things to talk about. Anyway, it IS 2022 so maybe it's the year you confidently shut it down. Here are some ideas: IDEA #1: Be direct.
"I prefer we not talk about my relationship status." (or whatever personal topic they're asking about)
“I don't share intimate details about my personal life.”
IDEA #2: Maneuver the convo.
"I haven't focused on relationships lately. I've been spending a lot of time doing [xyz] with my friends and working hard on [xyz] project at work. Have I told you about it yet?"
IDEA #3: Throw a curveball.
“Yeah, I'm single. So, anyway, how is your sex life with Uncle Bob?”
The curveball is my favorite. Someone please throw it and tell me how it goes.
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Greta Strickland, MS Licensed Professional Counselor
Greta has managed her own private practice in Blue Springs, MO since 2015 providing therapy to women who struggle with anxiety, perfectionism, and all of life's beautiful but complex stressors.
When she's not working, you can find Greta watching Big Brother with her husband, singing made up songs to her daughter, and sneaking "people food" to their golden retriever.