A Practical Guide to Not Hating Your Relatives (or Yourself) over the Holidays

Awkward Family Photo from: www.teamjimmyjoe.com/2013/11/bad-family-christmas-photos-funny/

Awkward Family Photo from: www.teamjimmyjoe.com/2013/11/bad-family-christmas-photos-funny/

If you'll be seeing family for the holidays, you hopefully have some positive reasons for why these folks matter to you. Likewise, there's probably some things that drive you crazy. I recently had a couple ask me how they could avoid reverting back to old patterns when they're home with family. Here's my 3-step process to do something differently this holiday season:

1. Identify the patterns that you most want to avoid. Write down three to five of the patterns that you're working on changing. Then for each one, write down what circumstances are likely to provoke that automatic response in you. Is it snapping at your mom when she is acting like a martyr? Pushing your daughter about when she's going to get married, when she's talking about her boyfriend? Shutting down emotionally when your aunt starts talking politics? Whatever the patterns, know that they are a normal part of being human and being in a family, so be compassionate with yourself when you're writing this list.

2. Write down an action plan for each pattern. Consider a healthy alternative to your automatic response in each patterned situation. What can you say or not say, that feels both kind and empowering? Where can you place boundaries or choose to gently remove yourself from a situation? Actually practice how you're going to do these things or say these things, so that they feel more natural and calm. If you're unsure of a healthy, different way to handle a situation, run the problematic scenarios past a close friend or loved one, and ask for their insights.

3. Set a reminder in your phone or put a note by your bed to check this list every morning, so that you are calmly prepared for when these surface. Take a few deep breaths as you're reading through the list. And remind yourself that your relatives, just like everyone else, do have redeeming qualities and are probably trying to just do their best in the world.

This doesn't have to mean that you agree with the environmental views of your father, or like the way your sister still treats you like you're 16, or condone your uncle's racist jokes. But it does mean you can be less reactive and have more choices around how your respond. This means you will feel pride in not being hooked in the same way as always and won't be giving your power away. Plus, as you're feeling calmer, you'll be better able to appreciate the good things about your family, which is one of the most important things about the holidays.

~Dr. Jenn Gunsaullus, San Diego Sexologist, Sociologist, Sexuality Speaker