Prepare Now for the Holiday Emotional Onslaught

“I’ll be home for Christmas…”

Does that refrain cause your eyes to mist over lovingly, as you eagerly anticipate leaping into the arms of beloved family members after an oh-so-long period of distance and separation? Can you just picture the laughter, the warmth, the snow gently falling, the homemade cookie smells wafting from the bright and cozy kitchen as the fire warms the hearth and the tree lights twinkle softly?

Or, does the thought of returning home for Christmas make your chest tighten, your fists clench, and your thoughts jump into survival mode as you strategically plan how to dodge Uncle Burt’s drunken outbursts, Grandma’s never-ending reminders of each and every one of your past transgressions, Aunt Trish’s passive-aggressive attacks?

We tend to have grandiose and unfulfillable images of how the holidays should be; after all, everyone else’s social media posts are overflowing with heartwarming Norman Rockwell images. No one’s arguing, everyone’s smiling, even the children are angelically holding hands in their perfectly pressed holiday best. The reality that’s less often shared, however, is that the vast majority of us – 96% of families, according to one statistic – are, at least to some degree, dysfunctional. So what is a normal person with a “normal” family to do?

How about, instead of the false pretenses and denial, we determine to just be real, to be ourselves, this holiday season. Yes, there will be joy. The joy you make for yourself and others. And yes, there will be struggles. The renewed hurts and slights that seem to be brought to the forefront simply by the holiday itself. New memories can be made that will be treasured, and others (we can only hope) will soon be forgotten. And as with any other successful endeavor, a little pre-planning is essential. So take a deep breath, calm yourself, and add these tips to your holiday survival arsenal:

  • Stay in the moment. It’s easy for the ghosts of holidays past to creep in when reuniting with family members who’ve caused you pain or distress, but try to leave that history behind and focus on the present. People do change as they grow older; allow a clean slate at the start of the festivities, and you may be pleasantly surprised at the outcome.
  • Stay calm. Rather than getting pulled into argumentative interactions, turn your attention to family members who truly bring you a sense of joy and peace – or, turn your attention inward if that’s the best option, to maintain a sense of calm in the storm.
  • Stay true to yourself. Don’t allow any negativity around you to compromise your values. Rise above the bickering rather than joining in. Try distancing yourself for a period of time – perhaps by offering to walk the dog, or playing a game with the kids – until tempers have cooled.

Families will be families, and for all their faults, they’re our own, and have helped shape who we are today – and who we’re becoming as we grow older. I plan to enjoy mine to the fullest this holiday season, warts and all, and I wish the same for you and yours! (and I can see my family now wondering who it is that I am accusing of having warts!) Peace.