How To Avoid Being Triggered By Family Members During The Christmas Period
Oh, the holidays. Or, if like me, you’ve made it this far into the year with barely any steam left and a crumbling sense of what time and life even are: oh god???? It’s… the… holidays… (again!)
Let’s admit it, by the time Christmas comes around, we’re all exhausted and ready to sleep / eat / drink mulled wine and repeat. However, things don’t always go according to plan, and more often than not, it’s down to how we feel around our families. Whether we’ll end up having the most relaxing time winding down for the end of the year and come back charged and ready for 2023, or whether the eyes under our bags will just get bigger and deeper than they were on December 1st, will likely depend on how zen we can remain throughout the different family gatherings we have planned.
Families are a tough beast, and familial relationships can be extremely triggering in nature. We’ll have a look at some therapist-approved tips and tricks for surviving the holidays without chewing your sibling’s face off, but before we do that, it’s important to stress that being around family members for Christmas is a privilege in itself and always something to cherish. No matter how strained the relationship or how infuriating how interactions might feel, we can always take a moment to feel some gratitude and say thanks.
On to some tried and tested ways to survive Christmas without being triggered by family members! Happy holidays, Dandy readers!
Know what you can control
This is best done before you get to your parents’ or in-laws’ house, before they make their way to yours, or anyway before any madness really has a chance to start. Take a few minutes to go over any emotional coping strategies you might have explored in the past, and examine what’s worked and what hasn’t. Remember that at the end of the day, dealing with difficult family members or stressful situations is the same no matter the time of year: what you can control is how you act in their presence and react to what they’re bringing to the table. Everything else is outside of your control, so don’t spend too long trying to change something (or someone) you can’t.
Know your triggers
This is also best done before the salmon tartines and the cheese plates are brought out. Take a deep breath, and remind yourself that you both don’t need to engage in conversations you don’t want to, and that you can excuse yourself or try to change the subject whenever you sense your triggers come into play. Maybe it’s your racist uncle looking for a re-do of the last argument you had, food or weight-related topics, or uncomfortable family matters you wish not to rehash for the umpteenth time. Letting resentment and conflict foster is unproductive, so start making a game plan before it all starts simmering beneath the surface.
Set clear boundaries
You’re allowed to set boundaries, you know? It’s hard! They might get pushback! It might not work 100%! But it’s still worth a try, because doing so sets the tone for the evening and reminds other people that they’re allowed to do the same. This makes everyone feel heard and gives the conversation a chance to feel a little lighter, if you all agree on certain topics being off-limits and try your best to stick to the decision.
Prepare conversation topics
Sure, there’s things you don’t want to talk about, but what about preparing conversation starters and interesting topics to steer the dialogue towards when you feel things getting heated? Treat it like a job interview or a networking event: it might necessarily be a little scary and uncomfortable, but it’s going to feel a whole lot less anxiety-inducing if you know what topics, anecdotes, and interesting tidbits you can turn to in case of need.
Balance honesty and kindness
Should the triggering family dynamic in question be on your partner’s side, or an acquired member of the family, for example, if it’s your brother’s girlfriend or your sister’s husband you don’t get along with, have a conversation with said partner or sibling about it beforehand. Be kind, and try not to make it into a bigger deal than it needs to be, but be honest and upfront about the kind of support you might need from them, should things turn sour. After all, it’s just another case of setting boundaries!
Avoid feeling overwhelmed and suffocated
Being holed up in your childhood home for days on end can feel suffocating, and for good reason. Familiar environments can bring out the worst in us, as they remind us of what being a lonely child or a stroppy teenager might have felt like, and make it easy to revert back to an unwelcome emotional state we have long left behind. Sometimes, however, it’s enough to step out of the house for a walk, or take a long time in the bathroom as you gather your thoughts and feelings, in order to ground yourself and feel “back to your normal self.” Take as many breaks from family time as you need, and remember that it’s more than okay to not spend 24/7 with your family ––they might be thinking the same about you, so don’t feel guilty for taking a breather and going to the pub for an hour or scheduling a call with a friend!
Grit your teeth
Ok, this is not the most useful tip, but it bears saying. As Tolstoy noted almost 150 years ago, “each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way,” so you know you’re not alone in feeling swamped with uneasiness and anxious about the holiday period. It’s perfectly normal, and a lot more common than you might think, and it’s not a reflection of how much you love your family or what a good person you are. It’s just life! It’s hard to be in an environment with a lot of pressure, and if you feel a crushing weight on your chest at the prospect of going home for Christmas, remember that it’s just for a few days -–worse comes to worst, you just need to grit your teeth through it and get the hell out of there as fast as you can. Family time is not therapy time, and it shouldn’t be. It just is what it is, and like many things in life, sometimes you just need to get through it and schedule a therapy session as soon as you’re back… it’s something to look forward to, at least!