How to Survive a Stressful Family Occasion,
In order to avoid a disastrous family gathering, it’s important to consider the Who, What and How questions of
the occasion you are going to attend.
If you are the host, you presumably have a certain amount of control over the planned occasion. You can decide
what kind of celebration you want. You can choose the menu and possibly the timing of the meal – lunchtime or
If you are an invited guest, however, it’s likely you do not have a lot of control. Step one is to reflect on the last
family occasion, and the ones before that. If you are blessed to belong to a warm, loving family who enjoy one
another’s company, you are very fortunate and you probably don’t need to read this article. You are also in the minority.
For example, counsellors regularly hear, in the lead up to Christmas clients who say “I hate Christmas”.
The reason they feel this way is because, in place of relaxed enjoyment and a shared celebration, they are
accustomed to extremes of conflict and tension, beginning days or weeks before the actual day dawns.
To begin with, consider who will be at the gathering. Sadly many families consist of people with different
personalities, who have great difficulty getting on with others. Often people drink more alcohol than is good for
harmonious relationships. Can you handle the people who will be at the gathering and enjoy yourself?
when everyone comes together, old wounds may be reopened; jealousies, sibling rivalry and unresolved conflicts
have a way of being inflamed. Sometimes it is the extended family, including in-laws, step-children or
step-parents, that cause the problems.
If you are someone who hates your family gatherings, consider beforehand how you might handle the situation
differently. For a start, lower your expectations: it’s unlikely your family gathering will be what you would like,
but there are ways you can help the situation.
Resolve to stay out of any conflict; you don’t need to get involved and buying into arguments can make things
worse. Is there something positive you can do – someone you could chat to – even if it’s not someone you are
close to. Can you step back from the situation? Can you suggest a distraction? If there are children present, could
you suggest going outside or playing a game? Doing things a little differently can have a positive outcome.
The last resort, of course, is that you arrange to celebrate occasions like Christmas without family. Some people make this choice,
so as to have their own “Happy Christmas”.
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