Keeping the Holidays Bright


The holidays have arrived.

During the Thanksgiving meal, we went around the table offering our personal thanks in a collective cornucopia of gratitude. The contribution that continues to stand out for me was offered by my son when he said, “I’m thankful that my family doesn’t bicker and fuss and tank the holidays.” Impressed by the insight of this young man, I considered how the holidays are infected by discord. As a therapist, I hear lots of holiday horror stories.

This is a busy time with the added pressure of “getting it all done” before year’s end. Shopping for those we love and some we don’t is on the agenda right along with decorating, travel, meal preparation and hospitality details for arriving guests. During the holidays you will likely encounter people who are not your favorite hang-out buds. Angst-ing over whether or not your mother will feel slighted with the gift you chose for her. Or, weighing the likelihood of getting slammed for eliminating grandmother’s Cool-Whip salad for something more nourishing, or will your niece be insulted if she sits at the children’s table. Whether a parent, partner, employer, offspring or in-law avoiding difficult people may not be so easy during the holidays.

So how do you keep yourself safe, sane and in good spirits when such folk turn up at your party, dinner table or sharing a bathroom? Here is one simple step to ease the strain. Simple is not easy, but you can do this. It requires attending to your internal warning signals; your personal fuel tank of energy and tolerance. Being aware of your inner bells and whistles going off warning caution. Recognizing your own defensiveness at being ignored or dismissed. Those are important elements requiring your attention and personal resources while you:


When you feel misunderstood or think: “If I can only explain this the right way, he/she will understand.” Stop. Simply stop trying to expand his/her point of view to include yours. Often tough to swallow, arguments and tension result when stubborn positions are held fast. Do you really need their validation or agreement to hold your own? You be the flexible one and realize that this time won’t be different from those times before when you’ve tried to clarify your meaning or opinion and failed- when you’ve attempted to move them to understand, if not appreciate, your perspective. Respect the limits of this person, even if they are so very different from your own. Let it be enough to have a different point of view, acknowledge the gap between the two of you and go on about your holiday in good spirits.

When your mother-in-law snips at you for failing to make Aunt Lolly’s cheese sticks, instead of educating her about the trans-fats in the cheese spread required for the recipe, you may simply nod your head and say, “I miss them, too.”

When your mom or teenager or friend fails to be delighted with the gift you painstakingly picked, reassure yourself that it was a heart-felt offering and let them manage their own emotional fall-out. You don’t have to solve that problem.

When the relatives are bidding for your time, rather than stressing about satisfying their demands, notice what you desire. Where do you want to be? With whom do you want to spend your time? The answer may be alone in a hotel room for a refreshing nap before heading back into the frenzy or simply, a solitary walk down the driveway. Granting to them that “time is short” and/or “I miss you, too” (even though it may be like missing a toothache) will ease the strain and avoid the insurmountable problems that inevitably arise from trying to make everyone happy.

Holidays and family gatherings take us back to childhood and the temptation to recreate the magic we felt then. As adults, there is magic, but of a different sort. It’s not the childhood magic of having material wishes fulfilled by some large, red-cloaked elf. It is the mystery that happens between us as we gather together in a spirit of kindness, marking this season with each other. Whether delightful or onerous, we are together on this life journey. Enjoy the trip as much as possible—Happy Holidays.

Posted in anxiety, family relationships, holiday strategies, inspiration, self-help on 12/20/2016 08:11 am


  1. Thank you, Tina! I really needed this right now! Wishing you the best in the year ahead!

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