Updated: Aug 16, 2022
Looking for ways to get through Xmas without wanting to kill everyone (or one specific person) in your family?
If you love Christmas and being around your fam, this isn’t for you.
Right, now let's get on with it. Ahh Christmas! The food, the laughter, the fun & games with family. And the fights!
Christmas would be wonderful if we didn't have to spend it with our families - people we haven't chosen and who press our buttons, do things we don't like and who generally get on our nerves.
So what specifically makes this glorious occasion so stressful?
EXPECTATIONS OF THE DAY. The Idea that Xmas is ‘supposed’ to be wonderful is often what makes us miserable when the jibes, irritations and arguments start and we’re like ‘this isn’t how it’s supposed to be’. So start by managing your expectations.
Expect mediocrity; horrible food, rubbish presents that you'll re-gift.
Expect the mother in law to badger you about ‘giving her’ grandchildren (a ridiculous thing to do if you ask me. Oh, no one did).
Expect your sibling to poke you where they know it’s gonna hurt.
And expect that the person who usually drinks too much and gets lairy will do just that (newsflash: maybe it’s you).
The challenge here is not in trying to persuade them to agree with you, but in accepting that they are unlikely to agree with you and that trying to get them to see your point is futile. Let's take recent events as an example. Brexit and vaccines. Two very polarising phenomena. Whichever side you're on, how likely is it that you will change your mind?
Now consider the chances of someone who has the opposite view changing their mind. It's highly unlikely to happen. That doesn't mean it's impossible, it just means that you'll be wasting your time if or when you try to challenge their beliefs and try to get them to accept your view. You won't accept theirs... so why would they accept yours? Save yourself a lot of agro this Christmas (and in life generally) by having the wisdom not to argue with idiots.
On a recent instagram poll, someone (let's call her Vivien) said that one thing she found stressful about Christmas was all the meat, for she is vegetarian, and she would like her family to be less meat-centric at Christmas. This is a constant source of frustration and disputes. The uncomfortable truth is that Christmas is probably always going to be about meat, cheese, chocolate, alcohol and excess. We can whinge about it all we like, but it's not going to change any time soon.
No matter how hard the vegetarians may try to influence things otherwise, people like Vivien will never be able to change how much meat their family consumes at Christmas so the next best thing she can do is save herself the stress by stopping fighting a losing battle, accept that this is how Christmas is and change how she feels about it. Whatever you can't change, you need to look for all the ways the it is serving you (directly and indirectly). It's not easy but neither is arguing with no chance of winning.
If you're concerned about someone trying to project onto you - BOUNDARIES, people boundaries.
Two things - one is to observe your own reaction to their unwanted intervention and try not to let it bother you. Remember that they probably mean well for you. Know that this is just them being them and you can choose how to react to it.
It takes two in each argument - one to push a button, and another to rise to it. One to instigate, another to respond. If you know that someone is going to try to irritate you:
Have the awareness that their aim might be to rile you
Have the grace to deflect or agree with them (through gritted teeth if needs be - why bother trying to prove them wrong?)
Change the subject
Walk away and let them bask in the glory of annoying you. It's their issue, not yours
Do you want to be right or have a vaguely pleasant family life?
And on a general note (from someone who hates conflict):
Try to remember what you're trying to achieve - is it achievable? If not, fuck it. Move on.
If you can achieve it - stay solution focused.
Think of how can you get what you want, while they also get what they want.
3. PEOPLE WE DON'T LIKE
It isn't so much the argument here, but we just don't like them, yet here we are having to play nice because... Christmas. And family peace.
Usually we don't like people who do things we don’t like about ourselves. Or sometimes it's jealousy - they give themselves permission to do things that we don't because we are too caught up in trying to conform to convention and we secretly wish to be free.
Or perhaps there's a desire to be the cleverest, funniest, most helpful, best cook, or most generous present giver. Sometimes just being aware of that can make a difference. But for the purposes of this article, we're going with the most common cause of not liking someone, which is thinking we're better than them.
HOW TO DEAL WITH SOMEONE YOU DON'T LIKE
1. OWN IT. Take the self-righteousness out of it by acknowledging that you're just like them, in your own form. Be very specific about what you don't like. We all have every trait and behaviour, so there's no use being all high and mighty here. It'll only slow down your progress and keep you pissed off.
It takes a lot of self awareness and humility to admit that we have the traits and behaviours we don’t like in someone else. God, it’s uncomfortable. But the truth is, we all have alllll characteristics, traits and behaviours in our own way. Keep stacking up examples until you can see that you're no different from them, that you demonstrate that trait, in your own way, to the same extent, until you can see you're just as bad as they are.
It’s a very humbling experience to acknowledge that we are just like them, in our own form. But when you do, it’s like ‘oh shit, yeah we’re not so different you & I'.
Then you can actually have empathy for them, feel more connected to them, less judgey and more forgiving and generally feel irritated by them a lot less.
2. SEE THE BENEFITS
Now that you've owned it, think of a time when they behaved in the way you hate. Now ask yourself: in that moment and since then, how has it helped you that they behaved that way? What lessons, blessings, advantages did it bring you? None? Nonsense. You're not trying hard enough.
Has it helped you connect with someone else and have a common enemy? How did that connection help you? What has it taught you about life? How has it helped you fulfil what's important to you? Did it make you work harder, earn more money? Watch a movie you enjoyed? Go somewhere fun & interesting (or nap) to get away from them? Did it help you prioritise your time differently? Think of all the ways it served you. When you do, you soften towards them and their behaviour bothers you far less.
The answers are in your subconscious, waiting to be brought into the light - that is enlightenment.
3. BE AWARE OF WHEN THEY WERE THE OPPOSITE. No one is one-sided. As previously discussed, we all have all traits and behaviours, so where and when were they the opposite of how you're judging them? This can be tough, but keep looking until you realise they are 2-sided.
4. IMAGINE THEY WERE AS YOU WANTED
Then Imagine for a minute if they were exactly how you wanted them to be. Or choose one of those moments from step 3 when they were the opposite. What were the drawbacks to you?
One of my clients has a husband who can be grumpy - and that's putting it gently. She recently moved continents to live in his city where she knew no one except him. He frequently shouted at her, told her she was stupid or incapable. She hated it. But you know what she did? Every time he told her she was stupid, the natural bullshit meter in her head went "no I'm not" and it helped her confirm her own sense of capability and not be dependent on his approval. Her self-worth went up.
She also started making plans to go to events like yoga on the beach where she made friends. If her husband had been kind to her, she would have become dependent on him, stayed in her little married home bubble and not made the effort to expand her network in a new city, miss out on work and other social opportunities. When she opened her eyes to this reality, she was able to see the higher purpose in his behaviour which made it bother her much less and even have a sense of gratitude for it.
So if she can, you can. Think of all the experiences and lessons you'd miss out on, disadvantages, hindrances to you if they behaved how you want. Would you have grown in the same way? Be less robust? Less able to deal with conflicts elsewhere? How would it have negatively impacted your life if they'd have done as you wanted? Why did you need them to behave that way?
Even if you find only a couple of examples, you'll have at least have opened your mind to the possibility that they're not entirely awful, and you will be able to tolerate them much more.
THE ULTIMATE ALTERNATIVE SOLUTION
Fuck it. Go on holiday, have a duvet day or pick your favourite people who also hate their families and hang out with them instead.
If that’s not an option then you simply have to change how you feel about the people you’re going to be around.
We all want to be loved and accepted for who we are. You do, they do. It's important to remember that we can't like everyone, and not everyone can like us. And we're all out here doing the best we can with the knowledge and experience we currently have.
So with this in mind, can you accept your family as they are without wanting or trying to get them to change?
Whatever triggers you is not to be avoided but is a opportunity to learn about yourself and work on whatever wound is lurking there that is a personal growth goldmine.
This doesn't mean you have to be their best friend, but when you change your perspective of them, they'll piss you off a lot less and you'll have a more harmonious Christmas (or fight with someone else instead!)
And finally. Remember that only you are responsible for your actions and reactions. You can’t change or control the behaviour of other people. Accepting other people as they are and seeing how their shitty behaviours serve you in your life, especially in what is most important for you, gives you gratitude, and a big chunk of resentment can dissolve. And then maybe your Xmas might actually be a little merry and bright!