9 Pointers For Dealing With Difficult Family At The Holidays

Concrete advice to survive the holiday season with difficult family members.


Maybe it’s your family of origin. Or maybe your in-laws, or your boyfriend or girlfriend’s family is the issue. At any rate, it’s the holidays and you’re most likely going to be around someone’s family in the next couple of weeks.

If time spent with family is not always easy, light, and fun, you’re not alone.

Here are 9 tips to help you survive the holiday season with difficult family members. Yours or theirs.


1. Don’t try to change them. This one’s number 1 for a reason: it’s the root cause of your frustration. Not only is it what underlies everything, there’s also an excellent chance that it’s the most difficult thing on the list.

I’ll just give it to you straight: when you want or expect others to be different than they are, you end up disappointed. You know you can’t change them—wishing for them to act any other way only drives you crazy.

When you accept them exactly as they are, your resistance and inner battle dies down. Acceptance doesn’t mean approving of or condoning what they do. It simply means you stop expecting them to be different than they are.


2. Don’t take things personally. Their nitpicking or disapproval is rarely about you. If they disapprove of your date, pressure you to find a job, don’t thank you for the gift you spent hours picking out…that’s about them. They get to choose their behaviors, and what they choose is always more a function of their experiences and their worldview than it is about you.

So they’re the kind of person who asks rude questions or doesn’t appreciate gifts. Fine. It has nothing to do with you and less personally you take it, the happier you’ll be.

3. Choose your battles. When it comes to addressing things that bother you, turning the other cheek is usually the safest choice. Of course there are exceptions and there may be times you desperately need to speak up for yourself or leave the situation. But by and large, family time during the holidays is relatively short and infrequent. Remind yourself that you’re leaving town soon and just let it go.

4. Protect your energy. When tension is high, you can literally feel the energy in a room shift. Don’t let your energy be hijacked by anyone else. Decide how you want to feel and consciously decide to feel that way. Being calm and peaceful is your best asset in any stressful situation.


5. Take responsibility.  Wiith an open-mind and a willingness to be wrong, look at your role in the tension. It’s natural become defensive when you’re challenged or attacked, but try examining yourself from their point of view. If you’ve done something that isn’t the highest expression of who you want to be, acknowledge and apologize for it. Simply and sincerely apologize for any role you may have played in the disagreement so that you can put it behind you and move on.

6. Ask: What can I learn from this? You’ve heard it before—difficult people are your greatest teachers. They test your limits and help you grow.

I believe that everyone in your life is here on purpose; they’re all part of a rotating cast of characters perfectly chosen to help you become more of Who You Really Are. With that perspective, what could your family situation teach you? What will you learn from the conflict? How can you use this situation to improve your other relationships or help someone in a similar situation?

7. Don’t compare. No family is perfect. The ones that look perfect only appear so from your outside perspective. Everyone’s dealing with something; if it’s not family drama, it’s something else.


Comparing your family to others’ is the opposite of accepting them exactly as they are. The more you compare, the worse you feel, period.

8. Choose to be happy instead of choosing to be right. You know how confident you are that you’re right and they’re wrong? Well, I have news for you. They’re just as sure that they’re right and you’re wrong.

Since you aren’t going to change their mind, why not decide that it’s enough that you know you’re right and leave it at that. Choose happiness over righteousness.


9. Be compassionate. Although it’s hard to show love to difficult people, they’re the ones who need it most. No one wants to be snarky or envious or mean. Any action that’s not based in love is based in fear.

Everyone has a story. If you knew their story, you’d have compassion. Try to remember that, especially when it’s so easy to judge. Practice compassion for your family. If they knew better, they’d do better. Plus, by offering compassion to them, you’re generating it in yourself, so everyone wins.

Amy Johnson, Ph.D. is a psychologist and master certified coach. She writes a popular blog full of down-to-earth, achievable steps to living a happier, more enlightened life at www.DrAmyJohnson.com. Grab her FREE ebook on getting out of your own way to create the life you want.