"Common triggers at the holidays include loss/breakups, financial stressors and unresolved family conflicts," says Dr. Kristen Lee, Ed.D., LICSW, behavioral science author and speaker. "Our ideals of what we think 'should be' and 'what is' are often at odds. When people act out, often their expectations are off kilter, and they seem to want or need more than what can be provided. When people display passive aggressive, aggressive or unruly behavior, there’s usually a lot behind their actions. It can help you take things less personally when you realize there are reasons behind someone’s challenging behavior."
4. Understand your family's coping mechanisms
For the most part, my family members have been supportive of my life choices. But there's always one that judges me on how I should be spending my free time (i.e. frowning upon my penchant for sending Christmas cards featuring my cat and a bottle of Don Julio — a few of my favorite things).
"Aunt Sally’s negativity is a ‘coping mechanism’ that she employs to get her through life," explains Dr. John Mayer, clinical psychologist at Doctor On Demand. "It may not be an effective coping mechanism, but understand that this is just the way she copes. Once you are empowered with this understanding, your empathy toward these relatives increases tremendously. When you understand people’s coping mechanisms you distance yourself from possibly getting into conflict with that person, as you will be leaving them to their coping mechanisms and not expecting them to be different!"
5. Put the focus on where you connect
As the saying goes, you can pick your friends, but you can't pick your family. So rather than letting Uncle Ted's opposing political views or Aunt Sally's judgments get to you, Hershenberg says focusing on the things you have in common will help you be more tolerant. "With friends, you choose them based on your views and whether they treat you in ways that feel consistently right," she says.
"With family, that’s not always the case. So when possible, focus on what binds you together. Try to do activities during the party that are focused in the present. Tell stories of fond memories. Play with the little kids at the party and get involved in their antics. Work on being present and enjoying, to the extent that you can, this unique cast of characters that happens to be your family."
And the same tactic can work for strangers. Yes, the pushy mother who rammed your cart in the grocery store is out of line. But you’re both in the same boat: braving the crowded stores to try and stock up on food and feeling stressed about cooking a holiday meal for your family — and she’s doing it with three kids hanging off her cart, so cut her some slack.
HOLIDAY SURVIVAL GUIDE
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