Here are my simple steps to avoiding toxic family arguments this Christmas
It’s the most wonderful time of the year… or is it? If Christmas with the family feels more like a festive trial than a time of peace, love and joy, you’re not alone.
According to Relate, 70% of us are expecting to row over the festive season. Many of us are stuck in unhelpful or damaging behavioural patterns with our loved ones, and being shut inside together can take more than a glass of mulled wine to endure.
We spoke to the experts on dealing with festive family issues, so you can go forth and be merry…
“Year after year, we can go into the festive period hoping that this time it’s going to be different, and more often than not, it isn’t and we experience painful repetition of past hurts,” says Kate Roberts, a hypnotherapist and coach.
Don’t be a child
Even if you’re happy in your own skin and a success at home and work, just 10 minutes at your parents’ house can be enough to bring out your inner brat.
It’s understandable, says Kate. “Christmas can be triggering for many of us. We’re often recreating family structures from childhood, so it’s easy to assume those familiar roles and slip into old unconscious patterns of behaviour.”
Kate says: “A tactful conversation with your parents may do the trick, but the most important thing is to remind yourself of who you are now, remember that you’re very different from the childhood version of you and try to maintain that sense of self as you go into these interactions.”
Think about the qualities that make you who you are now – your interests, beliefs, values.
The trick is to acknowledge that things have changed and that you’re an adult now.
To do that, Kate says: “Close your eyes and take some calming breaths. Try the 4/7/8 breathing technique – inhale for a count of four, hold for seven, then exhale for eight.
Think about the qualities that make you who you are now – your interests, beliefs, values, key personality traits. Imagine yourself from an outsider’s perspective and feel how empowered you are in other areas of your life.
Once you’ve generated these good feelings within, open your eyes and know that this is who you are. You can bring all these wonderful qualities to your interactions with your family.”
Share the load
It can unfairly fall to the same person to do all the present buying, cooking, cleaning and everything in between.If that’s you, speak up and make sure everyone chips in.
“Having a word before December 25 can help keep frustrations to a minimum and allow the day to run more smoothly,” says Kate.
“Suggest sharing the workload – everyone brings a side dish, for example. Assign duties to family members, such as laying/clearing the table or topping up drinks.”
Set firm boundaries on what you are and aren’t willing to do. Going out for Christmas dinner is also an option – it means everyone escapes the washing-up, while the change of scenery might mean you’re all better behaved!
Put yourself first
If the mere thought of festivities with the family makes you feel queasy, you can make different plans.
“It’s OK to choose not to spend Christmas with your family – you can opt out,” says Kate.
“You might say: ‘I know I usually spend Christmas at yours, but I’ve decided to stay at mine this year and do things a bit differently.’
Expect that your family may respond with disappointment, try to convince you to do otherwise or be angry. But it’s your decision to make, and you’re not doing anything wrong in prioritising your needs.”
Kate adds: “Be honest with yourself about what you need. Do some things that make you feel great, whether that’s meeting friends, exercising, meditating or reading a good book.
The more we improve our self-esteem and cultivate self-compassion, the less we feel drawn into family dysfunction and compelled to engage in toxic dynamics.”