"Sara, I won't be attending the annual family holiday party," Jeremy declared. Sara's heart sank. She'd hope for 100 percent participation from all her six brothers and their families.
Jeremy continued, "No way am I going to be in the same space with John (his oldest brother). He is loony and nobody seems to want to acknowledge it. Being around him is too stressful. Why do we have the party at his house every year anyway?"
Sara understood where Jeremy was coming from. In fact, she shared his sentiments; however, she had developed a few coping strategies long ago. Seeing her nieces together once a year outweighed the downside of experiencing John's party-spoiling tirades. She knew that she wasn't going to change Jeremy's mind so she didn't even try.
The holiday season can be best of times and the worst of times when it comes to family get-togethers. Some relatives you absolutelylove -- and others you loathe because they always seem to pollute the atmosphere with their negativity or unpleasant personalities. Whether it's Opinionated Oscar, who disdains anyone with a different viewpoint, Sensitive Samantha who gets offended by the slightest thing, or Critical Candace who must point out your recent weight gain, you need an extra dose of patience to navigate the field of party spoilers. Here are five of the strategies that I've used over the years that have helped me survive the dreaded encounters:
1. LIMIT your "exposure" to the toxic folks. Give them an enthusiastic "Hello" and a hug when you (or they) arrive and then try to steer clear of them the rest of the time if at all possible. At the first whiff of negativity, suddenly remember something you have to do in the kitchen or elsewhere.
2. LOOK for something to compliment the spoiler about (her outfit, her child's recent achievement, his new car, etc.). Sincere compliments can soften negative attitudes.
3. LEAD a controversial conversation down a "safer" path when it veers toward politics, religion, and other divisive topics. A quick interruption will be socially acceptable in this situation: "Hey, did you guys you hear that story about the man who broke a record by doing..." "Are the Los Angeles Clippers having an awesome season or what?"
4. LET it go: When one of the miserable people try to push your emotional button, don't take the bait. Have a pat, pleasant response ready for their normal dig and deliver it like an emotional pro.
Candace: "Mary, looks like you've gained some weight."
Mary: (Acting shocked but lightheartedly replies) "Really? Gee, it must be a side-effect of living life to the fullest!"
5. LAUGH: Look for an opportunity to interject humor. Laughter can break the tension in almost any situation. Try to recall a really funny joke or relate a story of a self-effacing event that left you in stitches. A hearty laugh will often work in response to a put-down or backhanded compliment.
Don't let your difficult relatives stop you from attending family festivities and having a good time with other kinfolks whose company you enjoy and with whom you share fond memories. Prepare yourself for a great outing by being well rested and armed with an affirmation such as, "I have the patience and the fortitude to tolerate any spoiler!"