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  • Communications Tips for Family Drama Around the Holidays & More

    For many of us, spending time with family during the holidays is something straight out of a Hallmark movie with days filled with comfort and joy. But for others, the holidays with family are scarier than Halloween. From the stress of traveling to the pressure of buying and wrapping gifts, and the fact many family members can’t be in the same room with each other without a fight erupting, holidays can be stressful!

    While you can’t necessarily stop family drama from occurring, there are some simple and effective ways you can deal with it:

    Communication Tips

    We all have experienced awkward moments when someone brings up sensitive moral or political topics (e.g., abortion). How do we navigate these uncomfortable conversations? Here are some basic communication tips: validation, reflection, and empathy. You do not have to agree with someone to use these skills. Nor do you have to agree with someone to love someone.

    Validation – This is essential in those moments when you notice someone getting VERY passionate about a hot topic. When someone becomes escalated, it is most likely because they are seeking to be heard and seen. Think about it, even as a child when we felt unheard or not seen, what did we do? Speak louder, scream, and throw tantrums. To de-escalate someone and make them feel better, simply validate them. Here is an example of validation, “That makes sense, I see why you feel this way.”

    Reflection – This is a great tool for making someone feel like you are listening to them. You act as a mirror for that person. You actively listen by mirroring back to the person what they are saying. At first, this seems like it would be annoying, but actually, the person usually responds with “Yes, and _______”. That is, they usually give you more information about what they are talking about. Reflections are not repeating word for word what the other person is saying, it is paraphrasing in your own words what you have heard the person say to you.

    Empathy – This skill requires compassion and emotional attunement. Don’t let your pride get in the way. Even if you disagree with someone, you can still be empathic. It does not cost you anything. To show empathy is to show that you feel for them. You attempt to place yourself in their shoes. For example, someone tells you about a tough event that they had to endure and you respond by saying, “I feel sad that you went through this.” You are stating that you feel their emotional experience. Remember, you can still hold true to your beliefs and opinions even if you show empathy for something that is counter to your beliefs or opinions.

    Have Realistic Expectations

    So much of the pain of the holidays comes from having unrealistic expectations. Don’t set yourself up for disappointment. Acknowledge beforehand that you and your family are human and that there may be those moments that aren’t very pleasant and that’s okay. Life and families are messy. Recognize it, own it and you’ll find you won’t get as upset. There is no such thing as the perfect handbook for life.

    Set Your Boundaries

    Time spent with families over the holidays can also trigger us to feel like children all over again, essentially helpless. But you are an adult now and you are not helpless. You can set those boundaries to protect your mental health. Determine before you go what you will tolerate and what you won’t. This can be for simple things like meal times and sleeping accommodations to what topics of discussion you will engage in. Be sure to share your personal limits with all involved.

    Use Good Judgement

    When the holiday drama sets in, it’s easy to want to drink more or eat more processed foods. But in large amounts, alcohol and processed sugars impair our mood and judgement. Do your best to not overindulge.

    You may also want to speak with a therapist in the weeks leading up to the holidays. He or she can give you tools to help you navigate the awkward and tense moments during family get-togethers.

    If you’re interested in exploring therapy, please reach out to me at 813-530-6190 or at [email protected]. I’d love to help your holidays be warm and merry (or at least tolerable!).


    How to deal with toxic family members during the happiest time of year