Survive the Holidays…With People

Six tips to dealing with the difficult people in your life this holiday season

Table Set for Christmas Dinner

With Christmas and New Year’s breathing down our necks, it can be a challenge to keep the joy alive. As discussed here and here, the holidays can be one of the most difficult times of year for many in our world. One of the best and hardest parts of it involves people: the people we love and the people who are at times the most difficult to love. So, let’s finish up this series with some ways to experience the joy and quite frankly, maintain your sanity, when surrounded by people.

Sometimes it seems that if it wasn’t for other people, we would coast through life just fine, right? But we know that certainly isn’t true. Philosophers, scholars, theologians, psychologists and even Hollywood writers have proven time and time again, that although getting along with others is often a challenge, without them life wouldn’t be worth living. (Think Cast Away) We are designed to live in community and that means with both easy and difficult people.

Sure, we can arrange our lives to minimize the time spent with known difficult persons, but what happens when they end up around our dinner table every Christmas Eve? That’s a completely different story. Here are some things you can do before and during those anticipated visits this year.

Plan Ahead: If you know Aunt Martha will be joining the family gathering this year, anticipate ways you can keep the conversation to acceptable topics. Think about how you will respond to her nosy or off-putting remarks. Visualize yourself engaged in a pleasant conversation. These simple techniques will help you to stay focused and in control of your own feelings and responses when Martha gets revved up.

Eagerly Anticipate the Reunion: If you dread seeing Uncle Mark, that will color your entire holiday experience. Think of something you can appreciate about your Uncle. This might require some help from other family members. Be grateful for those positive qualities. This will help you to greet him with genuine gladness. Remind yourself throughout dinner of those good things. When things get tense, bring the conversation back to these attributes: “Uncle Mark, I have always loved your ability to do impressions. Will you do one for us now?”

Consider the Source: Difficult people have reasons they are difficult. When we can identify what makes them tick, it helps us to understand them better. This, in turn, increases our compassion and often our patience with them. Recognizing which behaviors are strictly about them also helps us to let things roll off our backs.

Manage Your Time: If your visits will be prolonged, be sure to work in time to rejuvenate and recharge your battery. For an introvert, just being in a big crowd uses up a lot of energy. And when you add one or two challenging folks, it can be downright exhausting! Whether introvert or extrovert, being around difficult people takes it out of us all. This year set a schedule to have time to yourself throughout the visit. Go to bed earlier than usual so you can read or connect with a loved one far away. Volunteer to run an errand or watch the kids at the park. Go for a stroll during the day – just you and your walkman. #kickinitoldschool

Remember: Fish and visitors smell after three days. Whoever said this, was right on the money. The older we get, the more busy our lives become, the more we are inundated with constant bad news, the less capacity we have for close quarters with others. When planning your holiday times, keep your trips short. Better to leave wanting more than to exceed your expiration date with a bad taste in your mouth. If the trip is already planned, use the previous tip to create breaks in your togetherness.

Spread the Joy! Make a commitment to share the joy of the season with others. Remind yourself of this every time you get in your car or walk into a store or gathering. Keep your reasons for joy close to your heart, post reminders throughout your life and then pass it along. Put a smile on your face and a ready greeting on your tongue. Be the crazy fool who makes everyone wonder, what’s up with her?? Joy is contagious. Do what you can to spread it around.

Difficult people are all around us. Every family has at least one in their midst. If you find that these people are more toxic than difficult, hiring a counselor or coach to help you navigate the relationship in a safe and healthy way will produce great rewards for you and for them. We are called to love others as we love ourselves. The trick is learning how to do that well. The good news is that it can be done!

My hope for each of you is that this is your best Christmas ever. I hope you and your loved ones remember the reasons you are your favorites. And may the Good News of Christmas bring comfort and peace to you this month and all year long!

What are your tried and true ways of handling tough people or situations? Does eggnog help?