5 Tips for Dealing with Difficult People at Family Holiday Gatherings

I think we’ve all had some sort of experience with this!  All families have their share of drama…and go figure it sometime and somehow reveals itself during those special family gatherings.  Could be Grandma, a family friend, cousin, or anyone that’s going to step up and make your holiday celb

5 Tips for Dealing with Difficult People at Family Holiday Gatherings

The table is set with your holiday dishes and best silver, and the smell of the cooking turkey is wafting throughout the house. Fresh pine garland is draped just soover the hutch and bookcases, the Christmas tree is dripping with twinkling lights and memento ornaments, while packages are strewn under the tree waiting to be opened. You look around one more time checking to make sure everything is set, and then the doorbell rings. The first of many family members has arrived. Within minutes the house is bubbling with conversations mixed with familiar holiday music You’re crossing your fingers that all stays well. “So far, so good.“ you whisper to yourself. You spoke too soon…


“Nice decorations, where’d you get them? You know, you should have checked with me first. I know where to get the best ones. Oh, and I wouldn’t have draped the garland like that, I would have done it this way,” says Bossy McBoss as she moves the garland you took the time to get just right.

Across the room you hear Bigsy B. Little clear his throat as he warms up his on-stage voice while approaching your sister, Hope. “Incoming!” you think to yourself, wishing Hope could hear you and duck for cover. Too late! Bigsy B. Little is on the hunt. “Well, it looks like your New Years resolution didn’t quite stick. Twenty five pounds, hmm, looks like you found them rather than lost them.” She turns beet red and is completely frozen. Later, as everyone is seated for dinner, Bigsy says to all, “I pray the turkey isn’t dry as a bone like it was last year.”

The holidays, for all of their hopeful preparation and sparkle, can come apart at the seams very quickly when difficult people do what they do. We all know some variations of people like these, who can strike fear and dread into the holiday experience, but you can change that. You can have your holiday cookie and eat it too by following these tips.

1. Don’t expect others to change. Our greatest power lies in creating change within ourselves. Though you could delve into the whys about difficult people, and the insight might prove interesting, the fact is, they are who they are and you cannot change them. In fact, it’s a good idea to take a personal inventory to make sure you aren’t someone else’s difficult person. If in all honesty you suspect you are, make a few minor adjustments and promise yourself you will give your best this year.

2. Be aware and prepare. It is crucial when facing difficult people to be compassionately aware of your own vulnerabilities. Knowing and owning them gives you the opportunity to decide how you want to address or deflect intentional insults. Difficult people often home in on a person’s vulnerability and go in for the kill instinctively. That’s how Bigsy B. Little managed to destroy Hope with his well-placed insult. His aim was to make her feel small so he could feel big. If Hope had already compassionately owned that she had fallen short of her goal, she would have been comfortable in her own skin, and able to respond without feeling stung. Self-awareness and self-acceptance are the two strongest weapons against bullies like Bigsy B. Little.

3. Use your imagination to create boundaries. In the best relationships and especially in the most difficult, boundaries are the key to a sense of personal well-being. But how do you create good boundaries? One highly effective exercise called Tending Fences uses the brilliance of your creative mind to find solutions to these difficult relationships.

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