Surviving Holiday Family Drama


Summer 2024

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Conflict is bound to happen within families. Even so, some of us are lucky to have healthy family dynamics where issues get resolved, especially during the holidays when the point is to share peace and joy with one another. Still, we might encounter one or more relatives who upset us frequently, or who is just plain toxic to everybody. For those who don’t come from a good family but still keep in touch with them, the holidays may elicit a lot of anxiety. Either way, here are a few tips to surviving the inevitable drama.

Re-examine family relationships

Some of us don’t realize we’re living in a toxic household. We’re so used to being treated a certain way that we see it as normal. If you constantly feel unsafe and upset around family, that’s a sign it isn’t the best place for you. At this point, it’s best not to go home for the holidays. Your sense of security and mental health are of utmost priority. But, if it’s one or two people you want to avoid while spending time with your other loved ones, it’s probably worth the headache.

Forgive family

Before getting together, try ending quarrels. You could initiate this over the phone or in person. Success depends on whether the other person is open to resolving conflict or not. If they aren’t, there’s something known as pre-emptive forgiving. In his essay, The Possibility of Preemptive Forgiving, Nicolas Cornell states it’s to “forgive an action before the action has taken place.” In my opinion, pre-emptive forgiveness can only occur if you let go of past issues in order to see the other party in a new light and lower your expectations. 

Still, they might repeat the same behaviour you forgave them for. At this point, try your best not to regress. Instead, let them know you need to step away for a minute. You could go across the room, take a walk, or even go home if the whole night isn’t going well. 

Set boundaries

Decide what you will or won’t put up with. When the time comes, speak up. As one Redditor states, “I got comfortable with saying the word ‘no’. We can exchange pleasantries, but I don’t expect them to be there for me on a bad day.”

Place a time limit

Want to see your family but don’t want to commit to the whole day or evening? Set a time limit. Two hours may be too short, but three hours seems long enough. You also don’t have to be there early. You can arrive just before dinnertime and leave a bit after the table’s been cleared, so you don’t seem rushed. 

Vacation solo 

If you choose not to go see family, why not take a trip? You can go alone, so long as you feel safe, and this could be your new holiday tradition. You don’t need to prove anything to anybody, nor are you responsible for anyone else’s emotions. So, if you get guilt-tripped about not going to the family reunion, brush it off. Have fun on your own terms!

Josephine Mwanvua | Contributing Writer

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