How to Protect your Peace around Family

Shruti Koundinya

With the Holiday season in full swing and the new year just a blink away, a lot of us are back home from college or work, to be with our families. The weather’s getting chillier, we’re wearing our coziest sweaters, drinking the warmest hot chocolates and in general trying our best to bask in the merriment of this joyous time. But sometimes, despite all our efforts to have an enjoyable vacation with our families, I think it’s agreeable that at least some of what awaits us is going to be difficult to deal with.

But before you resort to spiking your eggnog, what if I told you that there are ways to support, protect, and take care of yourself, even and especially when your weird uncle is being insufferable? Here are a few methods to survive this holiday season with a dysfunctional family, and maybe even have a decent time while you’re at it.

  1. Have a strong why
    If the thought of being back home with family has you reading a survival guide, you hopefully have a good reason for being there in the first place. Focus on why you want to be home- maybe it’s to see a grandparent, or a pet, or even your room. Keep this reason in mind when things start to get tough and you’ll find yourself motivated to get through it.  A lot of the time, especially when it comes to family, we do things for formality’s sake or because we are expected to. But, having a strong personal reason for doing something always makes it a lot easier. 

  2. Differentiate yourself
    Remind yourself that you are a part of your family, but you are not defined by them. You belong to many groups and your identity is not solely defined by any single relationship. Being around people who have known you for your entire life may make it easy to fall back into old patterns and ignite dysfunction based on the past. But we all grow and learn, and knowing that you are a different person will help you have a different experience. What makes you different from the rest of your family? How have you grown or changed in ways that you feel good about? The answers to these questions will help you see yourself separately rather than wrapped up with everyone else.

  3. Plan ahead
    Prepare yourself according to your priorities. How often do we find ourselves in the same arguments that we’ve been in for years? Unfortunately, that will never stop unless we start prioritising our mental peace. To do this you should decide early on, if you’re asked an uncomfortable question, how will you respond? If conversation turns to a controversial topic, what will you say? If you start to feel anxious or angry or inadequate, what will you do? Maybe you need some canned answers, or maybe you need an exit strategy. Sometimes, you just need to take deep breaths and disengage. 

  4. Create a sanctuary
    No matter how much you try to avoid it, things may still get a bit heated due to no fault of your own. If you catch yourself losing your cool and beginning to feel targeted or uncomfortable at all, know that it is okay and sometimes better to leave. In times like this it’s imperative that when you leave, you have a place to go. Whether it’s your room, somewhere else in your house or even your friend’s house, if it’s a place that allows you to collect yourself and reflect on what happened in a way that makes you feel better and comforted, you should go there. Having a safe place amidst the chaos makes all the difference. 

  5. Establish boundaries
    If you have a family group chat, talking through any serious no-go topics or things you would prefer to avoid talking about ahead of time can be a godsend. This could include agreeing not to bring up politics, education, ugly family history, or even agreeing that no-one will be upset if you need to take a breather and grab a little alone-time away from everyone. While this can be easier said than done, when it comes to bigger family gatherings, letting closer loved ones know what you are and are not comfortable being asked or talking about can help highlight to them when you may need support or a tactful change of topic if you do get cornered. 

  6. Treat yourself
    This could mean setting up dinner before and after the trip with best friends, or doing something to take care of your body, like scheduling a favourite exercise class for the day you come back. Whatever makes you feel grounded in the life you created for yourself and makes you feel valued and supported by the community you can count on.

    No matter how your holidays go, remember that it’s only a matter of time before you return to the life that you chose and created for yourself, and that there are people you can go to, to talk about all the things you had to go through while you were away.