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How to Talk to Family at Holidays (If You Must)

Family get-togethers at the holiday season can be loads of fun… but there are always a few relatives who’ll do their best to drive you nuts. Here’s my advice for making sure these annoying people don’t put a crimp in your festivities.

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How to Talk to Family at Holidays (If You Must)

Written by Dr. Kellyann Petrucci

Through the years we all will be together…

Does that line warm your heart or strike fear in it?

If you’re like most people, maybe a little of both.

On one hand, there’s grandma, who seems to adore you no matter what you do. Can’t wait to see her!

On the other hand, there’s that brother who just doesn’t get you and always sounds so judgmental. Hope I don’t have to sit next to him!

We all have our own versions of these scenarios.


Happy Holidays from my family to yours!

If you’re lucky, the people you look forward to seeing over the holidays outnumber the others. But sometimes just that one relative who gets under your skin is enough to cancel out everyone else.

So how do you avoid all the fussing, fighting, and feeling like a teenager again?

How can you remain the best version of you at holiday gatherings and come away without regrets?

One great strategy is to get really centered before you go. If possible, take a few minutes beforehand to close your eyes and just feel the presence of yourself. Send some loving thoughts to yourself and promise you’ll be there for you no matter what.

Next, think about the others who will be there.

Actors for stage and screen say that even when they have to play characters that aren’t inherently likeable, they find something to like in them. And the way they do this is by looking at the characters’ underlying motivation. Almost always, even the most seemingly awful character has a positive motivation underneath it all.

And the same is true for real people.

That cousin who never shuts up just wants you to think he’s smart. That critical mother just wants you to avoid future heartache—so she can stop feeling guilty about her own past mistakes with you. And that sister who does nothing but complain just wants to feel loved.

Are you seeing how this works? For the most part, if you focus, you can find the one thing that each person wants from you. It’s usually something they crave on an emotional level that they aren’t even aware of.

And if you concentrate on that, suddenly you’re not so affected by them anymore. You realize you have the power to stay calm, loving, and giving even when others’ behavior is totally off putting. How cool is that?

Another piece of this is to really listen to them. Even when they’re talking at you, saying the same thing they say every year, listen! If you have judgments arise in your mind, simply notice that and then go back to listening. Don’t try to come up with your next response as they’re talking. Just listen for that underlying need they’re expressing. See how present you can be.

Then, maybe you can even find a way to give the person talking to you what they crave. It could be a laugh, a compliment, or a simple reassurance that you’re doing just fine.

Of course, this doesn’t mean you have to be a doormat. If you’re in an unpleasant conversation, it’s fine to keep it short and gracefully move on.

And if someone says something that’s truly hurtful or unkind, you can address that. But first take a breath and check in with yourself about your purpose. Are you trying to move past a hurdle to a closer relationship? Are you setting a boundary? Or are you getting even?

Once you know your purpose, you might automatically know what or what not to say.

If you’re responding to a comment that didn’t feel good, be sure to talk about your own feelings and state what you want. For example, “I feel angry when you chuckle about my painting. Painting is important to me, and I’d like it if you either said nice things about my painting or didn’t talk about it at all.”

Of course, that’s a vulnerable way to communicate. So you need to know when it’s better to just walk away. You might have at least one relative with whom it’s better to walk than to talk.



That’s the person you only talk to if you must!

And sometimes when you see that person approaching, the best you can do is silently say to yourself, “I’m so grateful that this holiday only happens once a year!”

If you’re looking for the ultimate family tie, try these Paleo Holiday Sugar Cookies. Perfection!

Keep thinking big and living bold!

-Dr. Kellyann

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