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How to lighten up a tense family Christmas and actually enjoy yourself

We’ve all got one, or two, or maybe a whole tribe of them; family members who drive us a little bit crazy. Success coach Georgia Bamber has some steps you can take to make the holidays more bearable, if not enjoyable. 

Maybe it’s your argumentative Uncle Max who hijacks all the conversations, or Cousin Sue who likes to drink just a little bit too much. Perhaps it’s your critical mother-in-law who drives you round the twist or your know-it-all sibling who can do no wrong. We’ve all got people who rub us up the wrong way, who grind our gears and trigger cascades of negative feelings.

For most of the year, you can probably manage to avoid them, but at Christmas time it can be tricky. With a host of family get-togethers and parties, it’s almost inevitable that you will have a run-in with one of these ‘difficult’ people. Clashes and conflicts, differences of opinions are bound to arise, and it can be more than enough to spoil what would be an otherwise very pleasant holiday.

As tempting as it might be to wash your hands of the whole business of the festive season, being with family is what it is all about. So, rather than give up, a much better option is to learn how to handle these difficult people and keep your sanity in-tact. There are a number of skills you can learn to help you better cope with these people at any time of year, and you can think of Christmas as the perfect opportunity to practice.

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Let go of your expectations

More often than not, when we get upset and frustrated with people it’s not because of who they are but because of who we WANT them to be. We want our mother-in-law to be complimentary, we want our brother to be helpful, we want Uncle Dave to lay off the whiskey.

We have expectations of how they should behave, how they should treat us, and when they don’t. That’s when we get upset. If you’re ready to accept the fact that people are likely to behave in the way that they always do, you won’t be disappointed and you’ll avoid a whole lot of frustration and anxiety.

Establish your boundaries

Creating healthy boundaries for yourself is key. You need to know where you draw the line and what you will do if someone crosses your boundaries. Keep in mind that boundaries only require consequences from you. For example, if Uncle Dave swears at the dinner table, I will leave the room.

Your boundary states if you do X, I will do Y. It doesn’t require action from them. You don’t need to tell anyone of your boundaries, you just need to know what you are going to do.

Become a participant-observer

One of the best ways to lighten up a tense situation is to take a step back and look at things from a bird’s eye view. Imagine you’re peeking in the window at the family holiday scene unfolding.

Imagine that you’re watching it as a movie or reading about it in someone else’s diary. Sit back and watch the drama unfold. Often this is incredibly entertaining. Instead of getting wound up by people doing aggravating things, view it as a chance to collect some amusing anecdotes to entertain your friends with later.

Holiday anxiety, stress and conflict can be avoided or at least greatly reduced. Much of the work lies in your mindset and being present in your thoughts. These three tips should get you started.

Georgia Bamber is a success coach, speaker, and bestselling author of Achieve Anything You Want. She’s created a free Difficult People Workbook, too, if you need more help over Christmas.