While there's no easy secret recipe to handling difficult rel's (besides never seeing them), I've developed a few strategies over the years that have helped carry me through family gatherings without losing my "merry."
Stress used to be the domain of older teens aiming for highly ranked colleges. But these days, even the youngest children in my psychology practice are complaining about trouble falling asleep, stomachaches, fears of making mistakes or doing badly on tests.
I worry about my children and grandchildren. What kind of a world have we left them? What family values will be possible for them? How did we go so far astray in this country that I have to write a rant asking for kindness for our families?
Family gatherings over the holidays usually involve heightened emotions of all kinds. Such events might begin with an atmosphere of joy, connection, love and caring but they don't always end on the same note.
I have figured out the art of visiting my family and having a good time with them. I would like to share what always seems to work. I have given this advice to several friends and colleagues, and they all have come back saying how they had a very good holiday.
Ebenezer Scrooge understood one needs to take care of oneself before it's even possible to take care of anyone else. His problem was that he didn't take the step of investing in his own joy, nourishing his body or his soul, and therefore couldn't be bothered to take care of anyone else.
As opposed to a family scapegoat -- an immediate family member at whom we direct unprocessed anxiety or anger -- a "safe-goat" is a person far enough outside our immediate family system at whom we can direct unprocessed anxiety or anger without inflaming conflicts between present members.
You do yoga, drink green tea, and read every self-improvement book that comes out. You have it together, you are evolved, and you've got the whole emotional intelligence thing under control. And then the fourth Thursday of November approaches. Yup, it's time to go home for the holidays.
Once you've made the decision of how you're going to handle the holidays, with either all the delight or burden it can bring, go about systematically making decisions that are in line with that result.
One potential solution to transforming the holidays from stressful to joyful is the application of identified communication skills that have been researched and shown to facilitate changing difficult relationships.
If you have parents, brothers, sisters or cousins and you visit them around the holidays, you can't avoid your destiny: There will be family drama between Thanksgiving and New Year's. This is America. This is how we do it. We like our cars big, our beer cold and our families dysfunctional.
You are either going to be busy up to your elbows cooking the bird, or driving somewhere to eat it with family or friends. Either way, you probably have mixed feelings about the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday.
Many years ago I happened upon a magical island in the Mediterranean. Not understanding what the families around me were saying, I could only observe their interactions -- faces, movements, joy, laughter -- without the distraction of words.
With shopping, social gatherings, and end-of-year obligations, however, we humans go against nature -- increasing our activity and stress levels at exactly the time that the body wants us to be decreasing them.