The Blog

5 Holiday Tips for Dealing With Challenging Family Members

People don't change unless they want to (regardless of how much you may want them to). So what can you do to keep the holidays happy? Try these top 5 tips for dealing with challenging family members:
This post was published on the now-closed HuffPost Contributor platform. Contributors control their own work and posted freely to our site. If you need to flag this entry as abusive, send us an email.
A happy family enjoying a meal time together
A happy family enjoying a meal time together


The holidays often mean getting together with family members. For some, this entails spending time with people with whom you may share blood, but not much else. And it can be challenging!

Whether it's Uncle Ted making inappropriate comments or Cousin Silvia who will not stop talking about how horrible her life is - you can still have a happy holiday season. (No, you are not going to change them, so don't even make that your goal).

People don't change unless they want to (regardless of how much you may want them to). So what can you do to keep the holidays happy?

Try These Top 5 Tips for Dealing with Challenging Family Members:

1. Don't Personalize. Passive aggressive remarks about your life, negative comments about the food or any statement that makes you feel lousy - try not to personalize it. Miserable people tend to have mournful views of the world that they cannot help but share. Rather than absorb their negativity, try to remember this is their issue.

One client told me, "Every time my mother-in-law makes some patronizing comment about my parenting, I just focus on how unhappy she is on the inside. It helps me empathize with her better. I only have to be with her for a few days a year. She has to be with herself 24-7."

2. Choose Your Brand Wisely. As Eleanor Roosevelt said, "No one can make you feel inferior without your consent." What that means is, regardless of what others say or do, it only hurts if you internalize and believe what they are communicating. So, rather than soak up someone else's opinion of you, have your own mantra that filters them out.

For example, if Aunt Betty tends to make comments about your weight and that is something that you struggle with, then you decide how it affects you. Rather than beat yourself up about when she says "Aren't we getting bigger?" or some other condescending statement, decide how you choose to brand or see yourself. Repeat to yourself "I am proud of the steps I am taking to be healthier" or choose whatever statement you need to hear that will help you feel better about yourself and reduce your stress. Don't let Aunt Betty - or anyone else - decide how you view yourself.

3. Need Any Help? Sure, dishes may not be your favorite, but they probably aren't annoying Eddie's choice for fun either. And that means, if you are helping out in the kitchen, Eddie will not be in there with you. An added bonus: engaging in kind acts can help you boost your positive energy. So, look for ways to help out and focus on how it feels to be of service.

4. Control Your Time. Being with challenging individuals is easier the less time you have to spend with them. So really look for ways to limit the duration of your interactions. For instance, rather than staying three days at your in-laws, announce this year that you can only make it for two. You can share an honest reason such as "we are volunteering in our community and need to be back in time" but don't lie about an event. (That can lead to more stress.)

If you can't limit the days you are together, then look for ways to limit the amount of time. Go for a walk every day or chose to be a tourist in whatever town you are in. You DO have choices, so take advantage of them.

5. Watch Triggers. Certain events can serve as catalysts to calamity. Figure out what those triggers are and take the appropriate steps to reduce or eliminate them. For example, are there certain topics of conversation that inevitably result in tension? Politics? Religion? An event that happened in the past? If so then stay away from them. Better yet, agree as a family to refrain from discussing them this holiday season.

Or maybe a trigger is alcohol for you or your family members. Sure, alcohol may help reduce your stress on some level. Of course, it can also lead to more issues - such as you or someone else making inappropriate comments. You may want to stick with non-alcoholic apple cider this year.

Try these tips to reduce stress, and maintain your happiness, when dealing with challenging family members. Your family may not be perfect, but with some planning, you can have a Better Than Perfect holiday season.