3 Ways to Cope With Family Conflict Over the Holidays

December has arrived and the holiday season is officially upon us. While that might fill some people with joy and excitement, others often face the holidays with dread and a desire to avoid them entirely.

The holidays are “supposed” to be a time filled with a magical holiday spirit, though. Why would someone want to avoid that? One big reason is because holiday time often equals family time. And family time often equals conflict.

All families have conflict sometimes — arguments and disagreements are a normal part of relationship dynamics. But when tension is the focal point of the family, or when there is a lack of repairing after a relationship rupture, it can be hard to feel a sense of joy and cheer… especially around the holidays.

At Lincoln Park Therapy Group, we understand the complexities that can exist within a family and we know that the thought of spending the holidays with family can activate anxiety and increase stress for some people. If you’re struggling to deal with your family this holiday season, keep reading… we have some simple ways to help you navigate your way around your family over the next few weeks.

Set Boundaries

Believe it or not, you can set boundaries with your family during the holidays (and at all times, really). Boundaries can be hard to set because they often go against what’s expected of us or what people “always” do. The thought of disappointing family or changing tradition often stops people from setting boundaries during the holidays. The truth is, though, your mental health and comfort are important. Learning how to set boundaries can help ensure you minimize anxiety or stress this holiday season.

Here are some helpful examples of how to set boundaries with your family:

  • If you’re expected to show up for an all-day holiday gathering, it’s okay to communicate limits. Try saying something like, “I’ll be there! I plan to arrive around 3pm and will have to leave by 6pm, but I’m glad I’ll be able to join for a few hours.”
  • If conflict often erupts at family gatherings, it’s okay to leave. You can say something like, “This fighting is upsetting to me and I don’t want to leave, but I am not going to stay if this continues.”
  • If certain members of your family like to criticize, judge, or critique you, it’s okay to tell them to stop. Phrases like, “I don’t appreciate you saying that to me”, “I don’t understand what your intention was with that comment”, and “I am asking you to stop saying things like that” are absolutely appropriate to say.

We know that it can feel uncomfortable when you start to set boundaries with your family. That’s why it’s important to try it. Sometimes you’ll do it well and sometimes you might struggle. But setting boundaries is like learning any new skill – the more you do it the better you’ll be! 

Treat Yourself to a Little Self-Care

In today’s culture, the concept of self-care has gotten a bit distorted. Self-care isn’t just about spa days, elaborate meals, or shopping sprees. When we talk about self-care, we’re really talking about nurturing yourself inside and out – physically, emotionally, and even spiritually. This includes everything from eating foods that nourish your body, getting enough sleep, spending time with people who support you, and setting boundaries around your free time. And of course, it can also include pampering yourself a bit with long showers, yummy desserts, and reading a great book.

Here are some of our favorite self-care activities that can activate a healthy mindset and help you have the emotional capacity to deal with family over the holidays:

  • Get to bed early enough to feel rested
  • Eat breakfast regularly
  • Listen to music that pumps you up
  • Give yourself some downtime every day if you can
  • Allow yourself to take a real lunch break – meaning, don’t eat at your desk hunched over your computer
  • Leave work early enough to have a few hours to yourself each evening
  • Watch your favorite movie when you have some free time
  • Stay active, even in the winter – physical activity boosts the feel-good hormones in our brain, which is a natural stress-buster
  • Do something each day that you’ve been avoiding – even if it’s one small thing, it will help you decrease stress
  • Take yourself out to your favorite meal
  • Get some fresh air every day
  • Let yourself be lazy every once in a while

We always preach the benefits of self-care, and it’s okay to go overboard with self-care during the holiday season. 

Change Your Role in Your Family

Families have long standing patterns that developed over the years, and every member of a family plays a certain part. One way you can learn to cope with family conflict is to step out of the traditional role you’ve always played in your family.

  • If you’ve always been the peacekeeper, relinquish the responsibility of mediating fights between other family members.
  • If you find yourself in conflict with other family members often, challenge yourself to keep your cool and remember that there’s a difference between assertive and aggressive communication.
  • If you shut down when conflict arises, try to keep yourself engaged with other family members.
  • If your pattern is to leave when people fight, consider staying and seeing it through. After all, if you leave every time, you won’t have a chance to see the repairing that might happen after the fight.
Support Is Crucial

If you come from a family that’s prone to conflict and you can’t avoid it during the holidays, make sure you reach out to people for support. Chat with your bestie, talk about it with your partner, or make an appointment with one of our therapists here at Lincoln Park Therapy Group. If you’d like some extra support this holiday season, contact us today to schedule a time to meet with one of our therapists.  We’re here for you and we’d love to help.

Photo by Nicole Michalou from Pexels.


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