: 22 December 2013

How to Survive (& Thrive) During the Holidays with Your Family

It’s that time of year again! While many of us can appreciate and enjoy the tradition and festive cheer, not all of the feelings that arise during this season are festive.
What is it about the holidays that can put you in a funk? In this article, I going to discuss how family dynamics may play a role in the holiday ugh, and give you some tools to waltz through this season with a little more comfort and ease.

Family has a different meaning for each of us. The core of the concept, in my opinion, is really lovely.

Family can be your tribe. The people who have known you since the day you were born. Those who you share a name and history with.

But family is also complicated. Just as romantic relationships are filled with both good and bad feelings, family is the same way.

Your family of origin significantly influenced who you are. Your relationships with your parents and siblings shaped how you currently relate to other people. For better and for worse.

The holidays, more than any other time of year, are centered around spending time with family. This could mean visiting the town you grew up in, being back in your childhood home, or seeing relatives that you only see once a year. While it’s nice to be reminded of those early memories of home, it can also take you back to feelings and experiences that weren’t so comforting or nice.

As an adult now, it’s likely you’ve separated from your first family. Perhaps you’ve created a family of your own. You’ve grown and changed, and you feel different now. But when you spend time with family, all the hard work and changes go out the window.

That’s right. Nothing will cause you to regress faster than your family.

I think Ram Das says it nicely, “If you think you are enlightened, go spend a week with your family.” Exactly.

The holidays have this way of taking us back to our first experiences of family, which can stir up those funky feelings.

That said, you can still have a great time this holiday season, and you can do it with your family! Just know that you may have to navigate through some uncomfortable feelings, as well. Here are some tools for your holiday survival kit:

1) Know that it’s normal for you to feel triggered by your family.

Sometimes when we struggle with our families, we can get down on ourselves about it. You might judge yourself, or call yourself things like impatient or rude. Just try to be easy and compassionate with yourself. Know that you are bound to act a little less enlightened around your family of origin. It’s okay; it happens to us all.

2) Take space.

If you feel like you’re overwhelmed by your family, take some space. This can be in the form of walks, alone time, drives into town, road trips, whatever you need to do to catch a breather. Space will allow you to come back to your sense of self, which will help you feel more grounded in the presence of your family.

3) Practice setting boundaries.

Some of us have difficulty setting boundaries with family. Watch yourself if you begin to feel overly obligated–it’s a sign that you need to set a boundary. Listening to your truth and acting accordingly (“I would prefer not to ______.”), will keep you from feeling overwhelmed this time of year.

4) Remind yourself that you are different now, but you might feel like the “old you” while hanging out with your family.

Again, family causes us to regress into old patterns and ways. There’s not much you can do about it. Just know that these feelings will pass once the holidays do.

5) Reach out to your current support system.

People who you’re close to now can help you remember who you are if you start to feel lost during the holidays. Reach out to friends and other loved ones for a good dose of support over the holidays.

Bonus: Try to accept your family members as they are.

If you feel up for this one, go for it! (It’s a little advanced.) A key to finding acceptance and appreciation for your family is recognizing that as an adult, you are no longer dependent on them in the same way that you were as a child. This acknowledgment of separation can help you relate to them as other human beings, rather than as people who “owe” you something.

The more consciousness you can bring to this time of year, the better. Remind yourself that, like the rest of life, the holidays are filled with both good and bad. Enjoy the good, take care of yourself in the bad, and if you get around to it, try to spread a little cheer.

Please leave a comment below telling us how you cope with your uncomfortable feelings during the holidays. Wishing you warmth, love, and peace this holiday season.



  1. carol on December 23, 2013 at 7:31 pm

    At age 56, I’m happy to not return to my childhood home for the holidays. I would rather spend holidays with friends or by myself than go “home” and endure the ill behavior of three brothers, one sister, and various in-laws. Not all my siblings are physically threatening and not all are invested in intimidation but the majority are just too much to deal with. Over the years, I worked very hard to change the way I navigate around my family and have been received with more aggression than I chose to accept. The first year I spend Thanksgiving and Christmas alone I learned that as painful as that was, I got over it much faster than the pain I carried after spending these holidays with my family. This is the seventh year I will not go home for the holidays and I am thankful I found the courage to go it alone–I really am happy.

  2. K.B. on December 26, 2013 at 1:40 pm

    HiBefore reading this..my way to survive family home holidays..is to shorten the stay…and keep my self busy with my kids while I was there….and keeping them busy with a lot of activities which distract both of us from any annoying behaviour….. now I have some tactics.

    • Shelly Bullard on December 27, 2013 at 6:10 am

      Good! I hope your holidays are going well so far!! XO

  3. Debbi on January 2, 2014 at 8:36 pm

    Hi! I have a family that stays in one house all day at the number of 21 people. At night, there are 16 people. I finally made it through without much commotion. I had several slipping offs to my bedroom to check my email and sort my bins of clothing and such. I worked out at a local gym for 55 minutes of intense cardio three out of six of the most intense days. I spent time with my nieces and nephews, grade school and junior high ages, instead of only the adults. That was very refreshing. I also think I tried to accept my family for who they were, knowing some of the comments or actions that would occur that I wasn’t going to be particularly fond of even before I went.
    I like what you said about remembering basically that you are your own entity now which somehow, in that way of thinking, gives confidence and strength, even if it’s only felt internally while going through the same actions you would have otherwise done. I mean to say that you can act confident and not feel it which is not beneficial. Knowing you are your own person coming to the table somehow puts the confidence in it.

    Mmmm…one last thing, I did also reach out to my support system. I didn’t need to complain or rehash anything that occured. It simply kept me in touch with who I really am as a person insteady of blending in with the “family personality”.

    ~ Debbi

    • Shelly Bullard on January 3, 2014 at 12:21 am

      Good job, Debbi! You survived!! XOXO

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