The holidays can stir up all sorts of emotions both good and bad, and since most of us will be retreating back to our childhood homes to be with family, it is easy to get lost in their visions of us as our ten-year-old selves rather than the fully grown and independent person we’ve worked hard to become (and all the quirks, personality and opinions that come with it). Despite the want to be close with family and share some quality time, emotions can run high and we may find ourselves a little too close for comfort. Katie Horwich of WANT (Women Against Negative Talk), provides some insight and helpful tips to staying sane, stress-free and curb the negativity, by being your true self this season.
The holiday season. On one hand, it’s a time of food, fun and family togetherness. On the other hand… it’s a time of food, fun and family togetherness.
Getting together with the family can bring out all sorts of emotions. No matter how close your clan is or how different you all are, the various personalities at play coupled with the high-energy of the holiday season too often means we end up associating this time of year with stress, obligation and forced oversharing. Everyone somehow gets entangled in everyone else’s business, and come mid-December we’re counting down the days until the parties end and the New Year strikes. What a waste of holiday cheer!
Setting mindful boundaries with our loved ones right now is crucial to not only our sanity, but to our relationships with our relatives. For most of us, we’re only with our extended family a few times throughout the year, so it’s important that when we are all together, it’s helping to build the kinds of relationships – and, so cliché, but memories – we want to have.
It can be so easy to get into a scuffle when there are lots of different personalities in the room, but it’s easily avoidable if you’re coming from the right place. Make sure the underlying emotion you carry with you is love. Be empathetic. Be assertive. Listen to your heart for cues on when to budge and when to stand firm. When to speak up and when to let it go. Just because you’re with your family doesn’t mean you need to morph into a different version of yourself. The more you do this, the more they’ll catch on. The more they catch on, the more comfortable they’ll feel doing the same. And that’s the best holiday present you could give them.
Here are three ways to keep things civil, compassionate and in control without resorting to anger or walls.
Come Prepared with Questions
You know the saying, “Treat others as you’d like to be treated.” Ask the questions you’d appreciate being asked. If you don’t want to give a play-by-play on your love life, don’t go there with others. If you don’t want to explain your year of “funemployment” to your uncle, choose to ask him about his hobbies, travels, holiday plans or something other than “How work’s going?” You get the picture.
Just because you have boundaries doesn’t mean you’re closed off or not invested. Everyone has their own limits as to what they’re comfortable discussing, and everyone is an open book in other areas of their life. Use your empathy skills to gauge what others might love discussing…and what might make them break out into hives. Showing people how you are both genuinely interested in them and respect their privacy will send off signals that you’d appreciate if they’d do the same. And by the way, if someone is prying, it is perfectly okay to give a vague answer and steer the conversation in another direction. You are in charge of how much you are willing to share.
Shut Down the Negative Self Talk
From griping about life events to commiserating over body image woes, negativity is used as a bonding tactic – a cheap and easy way to form connections and find common ground. I’m not talking about legitimate, concern-causing grievances (signs of depression, eating disorders, abuse, etc). I’m talking about the emotionally loaded conversations we have simply to bond with one another.
Large family gatherings can be a cesspool for negative bonding sessions. When you hear the members of your family griping about how “bad” they’ve eaten, counter that with a comment on how awesome your aunt’s cooking was, then ask about a recipe. When you notice a conversation about work is veering down a negative road, ask to hear about a hobby someone loves or a recent success. Lead with your own pragmatic positivity, and make a pact with yourself that you will not be roped into feeling bad about yourself just to fit in.
Be Who You Want To Be
Whether we’ve grown up around them our entire lives or only see them once in a blue moon, it can be easy to fall into past roles with our families. You’re a “grandchild” in the mix? You’re still a kid in your aunts’, uncles’, and grandparents’ eyes.
The oldest child in the fam? Maybe you’re expected to play that part even though you don’t really feel like you’ve gotten anything figured out yet. Just because you’re a “kid” in your family does not warrant that you’re treated as such. Whether your aunt is infringing on the way you parent your little one or your older sibling is bossing you around in the kitchen, the holidays are a fantastic time to renew your vow to yourself to be the you you know you want to be. It’s a time of year that can bring out the very best of us – or the very worst. It’s up to us which one we choose. Sure, words speak volumes – saying, “I’ve got this” or a simple, “No thank you” sometimes does the trick – but when it comes to setting boundaries with your loved ones, actions speak encyclopedias.