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How to Survive Family Conflicts During the Holidays

11/29/2012 10:43 am 10:43:38 | Updated Jan 29, 2013

One of life's most difficult situations is when someone you love is no longer present in your life due to disagreements, especially during the holidays. After navigating through the tumultuous teenage years, parents, adult children and siblings expect to have close and loving relationships with each other; and when we find ourselves feeling disconnected instead, it can be difficult, frustrating and often times draining and hurtful. The holidays are portrayed in the media as a time of joy shared with close-knit families, but unfortunately, circumstances sometimes arise where families have major disagreements and these situations can often cause hurt feelings and anger. During the holidays, we are either "forced" together or, if we are apart from our families, long-held traditions are mourned and the distance in either case is felt profoundly. It's all too common, especially during the holidays, to see differences and expectations exasperate family situations.

What you can do to get through the holidays:

1. Move past the fear, frustration and anger. Loving a difficult parent, an unforgiving child or a distant sibling takes determination, humility and patience. Once you understand that you love your parent/sibling/child in spite of your differences, make sure they know that you love them and that you will be there when they are ready to talk again. Be aware of where the relationship stands right now and not where you think it should be. Let go of the expectations you may have and allow for some space and time; know that life is not lived only on your terms or on your timetable. Avoid being defensive and don't let your ego keep you from being close with someone you love.

2. Listen. Really listen. If they tell you to leave them alone, that they don't want to attend the family holiday festivities, that it is your entire fault -- listen some more. When your parent/sibling/child is blaming, reluctant to share, filled with animosity toward you, then listen some more. Let them be heard completely by you. By letting them vent, you now know where your relationship stands and what you can do in the future to bring it back to normal again.

3. A whole list of don'ts: Don't give advice that isn't requested, don't pressure, don't criticize, and don't be demanding. Stop yourself from criticizing your child's choices or their lifestyle; refrain from telling your children how to parent their kids; avoid rehashing the past with your parents; don't pressure your children, aunts or uncles, and let your siblings be who they are. Control must be relinquished for the common good of cooperation. Create the conditions where each individual can communicate clearly and accept each other's diverse and even contrary perspectives. Things do not have to be done the way you insist or the way it has always been done. Traditions can change.

4. Take responsibility for the mistakes you've made. Know that in order to have cooperation or reconciliation, you must be able to acknowledge the ways you may have contributed to the difficulties and admit your shortcomings. Some situations may make reconciliation difficult -- those who may not be ready to hear your perspective, mental illness, a parent whose agenda is to perpetuate the conflict, or the need to blame is more important than coming back together. If you can state clearly what your feelings are without blame and without defending yourself, you stand a better chance of creating an environment where each person can share and move closer to a resolution.

5. Release the need to be accepted or appreciated. Be who you are and do what you love doing for the sheer enjoyment of it. If you want to decorate the house for the holidays, then do it -- even though no one else may show up to enjoy it. Give yourself the pleasure of tradition and joy regardless whether others choose to participate or not. Give without expecting to receive: Don't expect a response, a phone call, or an in-kind gesture. Give and then give some more.

6. Initiate the mending of the relationship. Even when we are not to blame, we can choose to begin the process of improving the relationship or situation. We may face ongoing rejection and even abuse when we reach out, but don't give up. It may take months or even years to mend the family conflicts, but the rewards of having love restored are worth the effort. Keeping the door open and making an effort to be centered, responsible, caring and available for a relationship will allow healing to occur at the right time.

7. Do not feel guilty. When you have tried all of the above solutions and reconciliation is still not an option, for whatever reason, do not feel guilty. There are some family members that will refuse to meet you halfway, and and may choose to be unreasonable and hateful. If this is the case, feel comfortable with your efforts. Time may need to become the healer -- understand this. Focus your energies and move through the holidays with those who love and respect you and who want to be with you. Do not dwell on what you do not have -- rather be grateful for what you do have.

Believe that your love for your parent/sibling/child does matter and that your love is the most valuable thing you have to offer. Trust that it is enough.

For more by Linda Durnell, click here.

For more on conscious relationships, click here.