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How to Deal with Difficult Family on Thanksgiving

Family get-togethers are not always easy. Many of us dread having to participate in some of the social events that take place during this time. We may begin to experience stress knowing that our gathering will involve some relatives or immediate family which we really do not like. We may feel the tension building as we think about in-laws and/or relatives who have such strong opinions and advice and tell us what we should be doing and how we should be doing it, that all we want is to avoid the entire situation. Of course we do not want to have conflict during a holiday celebration; so instead, we absorb it all, take it in and cannot wait for the day to end.

Angry couple

Although families tremendously affect how people think and act, the more one is differentiated, the less of an impact others can have on you. Other people cannot upset you unless you allow them. Separating and understanding that you are a different person from Aunt Sally, or mom, or dad, and that everyone is unique in their own way, can help during the holiday time. Accepting that others are not like you and although you may not agree with them or even like them, you are secure enough in yourself that you can sit at the dinner table with them and not become reactive. Differentiate yourself and observe the interactions amongst others. Once you become reactive to what others are saying, it is time to look inward and explore what about that comment caused you to react. It becomes more about you than the other and it is an opportunity for more insight and understanding about your own triggers. If you are busy pointing the finger at others, it is impossible to see your role in it. Instead, practice being grounded within and elevate your level of maturity and differentiation.

A few tips on how to further handle the family gathering:

1) Don’t take things personally

2) Remind yourself why you are there and the importance of the holiday

3) Remember that each person plays a role in the family system

4) Become an observer …. You don’t always need to be talking

5) If all else fails, get yourself busy and help with serving, cleaning up and sit with people that you feel comfortable

This holiday season try to experience the gathering a little differently than you have in the past. Remember to focus on self. Do not focus on what others are doing or saying. At The Hellenic Therapy Center, 567 Park Avenue, Scotch Plains, New Jersey, we have a team of licensed professionals experienced in family systems theory who can assist you. We are available day, evening and weekend hours. Visit us at or on Facebook, or call 908-322-0112.


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