When the holidays are not so jolly – thanks to family factors

This Christmas, not everyone looked forward to the holidays, and it appears that this is becoming a greater issue in today’s society. From my experience in clinic, it is evident that there are many reasons why some people are not big fans of the holidays. The top recurring themes are feelings of disappointment, bad atmosphere and resentment among family members.
While the holidays are a wonderful time of year for many they are also a stressful time for others. Most people will admit to feeling a little stressed over the holidays, and often taking this frustration out on family members. You may even say that this it quite ‘normal’ and ‘typical’ during a holiday period. However, the danger is that your reaction of anger and resentment is very much becoming part of a learnt response, in particular if you appear to take the same approach with the same people every holiday.

It is when this frustration becomes more profound that it is at risk of escalating into serious long term difficulties. In particular when you have a relationship with a family member that is already fragile, the holidays can indeed prove to be the last straw. If you want avoid these feelings of frustration or reduce the risk of losing a relationship which is worth saving, you can now break the vicious circle of bickering among family members. This change starts with you and how you respond to triggers so why not read on for a few practical hints.

Initiate open communication to get your feelings across
One of the hardest things to do is to be frank and to say the right things. Families that have frank and open relationships tend to have less conflict in the family dynamics. However, it may sound easier said than done, in particular if you find it difficult to use the right words, or maybe you are worried about the outcome if you do say your piece.

It could be that you are bothered because your sister gets to host Christmas every year, in which case it would be better to actually say so, and communicate your feelings. On the other hand, if you are tired of hosting Christmas every year you will feel better if you communicated this fact. After all, you may learn that other family members are desperate to host the event!  Also, one of the biggest worries people have is the feeling of obligation to give presents. If you do not have the money for gifts for everyone say something, speak up instead of holding onto your feelings which increases your stress and worries in connection to the holidays.

Open communication is the key to family harmony, and in most cases, you will see an instant improvement in your relationship with family members. Just remember to communicate ‘correctly’ by following a few guidelines.

Use tact when communicating your feelings
There are ‘right’ ways to bring out a point and naturally ‘wrong’ ways as they may simply make the situation worse. There are words you should avoid using to get your point across when you tell someone how you feel. Using words that are accusatory and communicating when you are angry are never helpful.

As a few examples, I would recommend you leave out terms like ‘you always’ or  ‘you never’ when you initiate a discussion. While you may feel that your sister ‘always’ gets the better presents or she ‘always’ has something negative to say,  remember that ‘always’ is a really long time and it sounds accusatory. Stick to specific things that bother you when you are in an open discussion.

To get the best results, forget the past and focus on the here and now, including what you can do to help alleviate some of the stress in the relationship. Take responsibility for your part in the relationship by taking a step back and look at what you yourself can do differently. A little patience and understanding can go a long way in not only diffusing the situation but also in reducing your own stress levels.

How to improve your relationships
If some of these examples ring true to you after this Christmas, why not tackle the underlying issue now and learn more about how to change your response towards a particular relationship or trigger. From attending sessions, find out how these therapeutic tools can alleviate your negative feelings. As an example, therapy could include looking at alternative responses to triggers (CBT), visualisation techniques to reduce built up feelings (NLP) and relaxation techniques to encourage production of the feel good hormones, endorphins, through hypnotherapy. No person presents with exactly the same profile, stressors and requirements hence the therapeutic approach would be individual for each client every single time.  

By Tina Elven

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