While not every family has to deal with family drama during the holidays, some families do. You’ve probably heard your friends or coworkers talk about stressful holiday trips or come back after the holidays with plenty of stories of family drama.
Maybe you're wondering how you're going to deal with a certain person at your family get together this year. Or perhaps you're nervous about your strained relationship with a relative.
Maybe you’re a parent wondering how you might deal with adult children who bicker or over-drink during the holidays.
Family get togethers can certainly be a blessing. However, there are plenty of families that have dynamics that cause undue stress and anxiety when they get together.
For example, maybe you're not that close to your family because you have different interests or you've had conflict in the past. Yet at the holiday time, everyone gets together to share a meal.
You may feel out of place because you don't have a close relationship with your family members. They may feel out of place too. After all, there’s hardly any communication between everyone during the year.
There could be unusually periods of silence where no one knows what to talk about. Or maybe you've got those family members that love to drink and can get out of hand and create drama. You may find yourself drained and count down the minutes till you can leave.
This type of gathering you can certainly come to dread.
Someone who is known for creating drama usually displays behavior that includes an intense emotional reaction. Or perhaps they are loud, boisterous, inappropriate, or downright aggressive verbally or behaviorally.
I’m not in any way, shape, or form downplaying anyone’s emotions or their inner pain. I learned long ago that one person’s “dramatic reaction” is their emotional reality and should not be downplayed or ridiculed.
It’s their reality, and it’s likely they are swimming (and sometimes drowning) in emotional pain.
However, come family time at the holidays, one person has the potential to cause quite a bit of stress and chaos. This is not fair to everyone else, so having a game plan handy to deal with such family members can help.
Chances are you know exactly who those people are in your family.
Whether it’s attention seeking, gossiping, over-drinking, or some other dramatic behavior, there are some things you can do to protect yourself from getting sucked into that drama.
One of the first things you can do is start thinking about boundaries. It’s likely those that create drama lack adequate boundaries, so you will have to have solid lines drawn in the sand. That sibling that always interrupts and badgers everyone with their negative remarks? You have every right to let that person know this year, that won’t be tolerated. If they cross the boundary, you let them know what the consequence will be. (Being called out, you leaving, parents requesting that they leave, etc.)
There are many ways boundaries can get crossed at family gatherings. However, you don’t have to compromise your well-being.
Another example may be boundaries around time spent with family. Decide what times and days you can spend with your extended family. If you want Christmas day with your immediate family alone, let your extended family know. Maybe you can agree to spend Christmas Eve with them. Do what feels right for you, without feeling obligated to run all over to meet everyone else’s expectations.
Chances are you’re not going to get Uncle Joe to admit that his drinking is ridiculously out of hand at the annual family gathering. And, chances are you and others have already addressed the issue. For family time, choosing to accept your family members for who they are and how they’re acting may be the best way to foster peace throughout the day.
You can’t change others. We sure do try sometimes, though, don’t we?
Arguing rarely solves anything. Giving advice when it’s not wanted rarely helps, especially if someone has been that way “forever” or alcohol is involved.
So, before you even get to the dinner table, decide that you will let others act how they want, within reason, of course. Decide you will not take it personal or let it trigger you.
Another great boundary is limiting alcohol or not supplying any if there’s that person that tends to over-drink.
Sometimes someone else’s strong reactions can trigger you emotionally. Before you know it, you’re flying off the handle, arguing, yelling, slamming doors, or leaving pronto.
If you know that the chances of so-and-so creating drama somehow (because they tend to do it every year), prepare yourself to remain calm. It’s likely they are consciously or unconsciously seeking a big reaction from others.
Whether it’s them going on and on about how awful their life is, or ranting about politics, let them vent for a time frame you’re comfortable with.
Your goal? Breathe slowly and deeply. Let the drama float past you like a warm summer breeze. Keep telling yourself, “I’m staying calm. I’m not reacting.” Mentally play the tape through. If you react strongly (start yelling), what will happen? They will react and yell even louder and then others may join in, and so on. Before you know it, everyone is upset.
So, right now, before you even get there, decide that you will do your very best to remain calm. This doesn’t mean you can’t address the dramatic behavior. You can try to redirect the conversation or excuse yourself from the room.
And, you can do it with a sense of calmness, with firm boundaries in mind. ‘
It might help you to take small breaks while you're gathered with the family. This could mean getting outside and enjoying the fresh air for 5 or 10 minutes. Or excuse yourself to use the restroom to gather yourself and calm your nervous system if need be. If there are children around, take some time and play with them. You'd be surprised how removing yourself from that dramatic behavior can help you regulate your emotions, and it might even diffuse the situation.
Know that it's not your job to fix anyone else. Whoever is causing the drama in the family likely is dealing with some emotional upheaval or faulty thought or belief patterns. It's likely they don't even realize what they're doing, when they're doing it.
Do your best to stay on your own side of the street, and just take care of yourself. Try not to get overly concerned with that other person. Sure, that person may need some emotional support, but it's not necessarily your job to be that person that day.
Oftentimes, family members have different values or system are beliefs. Dad may be stubborn. Mom may be overly protective or go on and on about all of her aches and pains hour after hour. Your brother may let his kids go crazy and wild all day long. Uncle Mike might smell bad. Aunt Jane is a negative Nelly.
It may help you deal with family drama when you wear your unconditional love glasses all day long. This is a day where you can let your loved ones be who they are, exactly where they are on their life journey without trying to change them. Without even understanding why they are the way they are.
Sure, you’d love for them to act different. To be different.
You don’t understand why they think or act that way.
But when you wear your unconditional love glasses, you lovingly let them be.
Remind yourself that this is just one day or several hours and you can get through it. Practice self-care throughout the day, remember to breathe slowly and deeply, and maybe just observe your family members rather than judge them.
Hopefully they will do the same for you.
The reality is that there may be some challenging family members that you'll have to contend with over the holidays. Decide ahead of time not to take it so seriously. You might have to meet some family members where they are, even if that's at the superficial level. You may even let some comments or negative energy just roll off your back. Their comments, negativity, and drama does not have to upset everyone or ruin the day.
If you find that you’re freaking out over the thought of spending time with your family or it makes you emotionally or physically sick, know that you have options. Some people find it helpful to speak with a therapist about this type of family dynamics. You can come to understand better why you get triggered like you do, and learn how to set boundaries with your family. Ultimately, this may help you be able to spend time with your family without having such strong emotional or physical reactions.
Life doesn’t roll the same for everyone. We may never understand why some people tend to gravitate toward “drama”. My theory is that they typically are dealing unconscious emotional pain and/or learned belief and behavior patterns that aren’t serving them so well.
Offer some gratitude that you have a family to celebrate the holiday season with. Whether that's one family member or 25, family matters to most people – even if there is someone who tends to drum up drama.
Enjoy your holiday season and enjoy your family as best as you can.