Home for the Holidays: Navigating Difficult Interactions with Family Members

rhn-homefortheholidaysThis blog post was written by Recovery Help Now’s, Leslie Kolb, MSW, ASW.

The holidays are a festive time that can be filled with merriment, love, and joy. But for many of us, visiting our families for the holidays can also be stressful and dredge up all kinds of feelings—feelings we don’t normally have to deal with if we live far from our families. Even if we love our families, going back home for the holidays can place us in old family dynamics that we escaped years ago by creating distance, be it physical or emotional, between us. So knowing that we are returning to the family homestead, how can we maintain our boundaries, control our behavior, and operate differently within that same family dynamic?

First of all, consider how much you’ve grown since you were last a part of your family dynamic. Perhaps you have gone to therapy, or entered into a 12-step program, or even begun practicing mindfulness and meditation. Whatever your strengths may be, you should be prepared to use them. By using mindfulness during heightened emotional moments, we can help diffuse tension that otherwise might build up and eventually explode.

In emotionally challenging interactions with a family member, take a moment and remind yourself that you are not the same person who used to get dragged into whatever negative interaction they might be creating. If you need something to help you manage your emotions, try taking a long, slow breath in and holding it for a few beats before exhaling slowly. Studies have shown that breathing deeply can slow the heartbeat and stabilize blood pressure. Not only that, but taking just one deep breath can help you pull you out of the intensity of the moment, take a pause to center yourself, and then decide how to respond or proceed with the interaction.

Alternatively, you can try gently tapping your thumb to your fingertips for ten counts. Focusing on counting each tap can force you to pause before responding to a negative interaction. Think of it as being in the eye of a tornado—you’re there just long enough to look around, notice the swirling storm around you, and prepare to enter right back into it.

As you look around your holiday table this year, consider how far you’ve come from the person you were when you first sat around that table. Even if your family members have not put in the work on themselves that you have, try to wade through the difficult stuff and find the funny moments, the loving moments, the warm moments. They’re there, buried in all the drama and bad behavior, and if you can focus on them, you might just find yourself enjoying the holiday (and your family members) much more than you expected.


Elana Clark-Faler
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