5 Tips for Dealing with Difficult People at Family Holiday Gatherings

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 when you follow these 5 tips.

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 work to be your best self this year.

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. A well-placed insult can be a mechanism to make another person feel small, in an effort to make themselves feel big in comparison. Compassionately owning your shortcomings makes you more comfortable in your skin – and can help you respond to barbs without feeling stung. Self-awareness and self-acceptance are the two strongest weapons against bullies.

Use the power of your imagination.  In the best relationships – but particularly 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. Imagine you own a large piece of land that adjoins the property of this difficult person along its border. The current fence that marks the boundary is small and broken, and this difficult person often jumps the fence to snoop around on your land, leaving a mess. Because everything is possible in your imagination, you design a new fence 30 feet tall and 5 feet thick, with features that allow for this person’s good qualities to come through, while a Teflon finish ensures that that negativity doesn’t stick. This clear message, mostly to yourself, ensures that nothing this person says or does can get to you. Use this Tending Fences exercise for each difficult person and write or draw a description of your custom built fences for future reference.

Review and Resolve.  For the week leading up to your holiday gathering, take a few minutes each day to review your Tending Fences work, tweaking each fence as you see fit. Know that when the offending person delivers an insult, the fence will do the work for you, keeping you safe and intact.

Trust yourself.  Once you’ve done your Tending Fences work, trust yourself. It will give you a sense of well-being and confidence that will not only be a gift to yourself –but to your family and friends as well.

With these 5 tips you can relax and know that you have everything you need to survive the family holiday gathering and truly enjoy yourself. You’ve got this! Happy Holidays!

Terry Barnett-Martin, M.S., LMFT is a relationship counselor in private practice in Southern California. She is an openhearted, intuitive practitioner and writer who is dedicated to helping people find the purpose and path in their life and relationships. Her book, Tending Fences, is available here. 

you may also like

Recipes We