Avoiding Family Conflict at the Holidays

Alice Sanderlin, LPC-MHSP

Ahh… It’s That Time of Year, Again.

Recently, I had a client (I’ll call him Joe) tell me he was surprised to see so many people at an AA meeting on Thanksgiving Day.  Joe knew why he was there, because like most addicts the holidays can be a difficult time for lots of reasons. For him, it was a combination of things but mostly family related.

Spending time with family members during the holidays can be wonderful or terrible or somewhere in between. As the saying goes, you can pick your friends but not your family.  Joe and I discussed a few strategies for setting boundaries with family members who can inadvertently become triggers for guilt, anger, resentment, risky behaviors, or you name it.

  1. It’s okay to love people from afar. Set limit on time spent with family members who are draining, difficult, not in a good place, or have a negative attitude, especially if they try to push your buttons. While you are in recovery, consider this good advice on self-care and limit time with them. If the relationship matters to you, for now, try to maintain it but from a distance.
  2. Focus on what you can control, not on what you can’t. We can’t control others without doing damage, but we can take responsibility for how we react. If you know you’ll have to be around that annoying brother-in-law or nosey mother, prepare yourself by mentally choosing your attitude. Think about it in advance. What can you tell yourself that can help you maintain inner peace? If your loved ones are prone to asking personal questions or making snide remarks, decide in advance how you will respond. How you react is your decision. Stay strong on this one.
  3. Accept the things you cannot change.”  Try offering grace to those people who bug you but may not know it. Overlooking people’s quirks can go a long way. This doesn’t mean that you have to endure it if it truly gets to you (See #1), but if you can overlook that person’s problem (and decide to let them keep it), then do it. Remember you’ve decided to let go for your happiness and well being, not because they necessarily deserve it.
  4. Choose to live in the present. Unhappy memories and regrets can consume our thinking and zap our energy. Remember though, the past is over. It doesn’t mean that we don’t grieve what we’ve lost; we do, sometimes unexpectedly. Get support during this natural process and work through it. But then intentionally do something that returns you to the present. (This can be as simple as stopping to pet your dog or stepping outside for fresh air.) The past is behind you; live in the present. Look for what is good in what you have right in front of you.

Finally, give yourself some grace. We are human after all and negotiating relationships is an ongoing process in every family.  We can’t get it right every time.

As you (and Joe and the rest of us) navigate family, friends, and sobriety this holiday season, I wish you grace, peace, and love…one day at a time.

About the Author

Alice Sanderlin is a licensed professional therapist in Nashville, Tennessee. She works with individuals and couples at her 1222 16th Ave. South office location. Visit her website Alicesanderlintherapy.com.