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The Holidays Are Upon Us

By Carol Welsh

Do difficult relatives ruin your holidays year after year? I had a colleague, Traci, who proclaimed a few weeks before Thanksgiving that the family gathering would be ruined as usual because of her sister-in-law, husband, and meddlesome nephew. She had a defeatist attitude plus she figuratively put on full battle gear ready to go to war with these despicable in-laws.

I reminded her from previous conversations that you can't change the other person, but by changing how you approach this person, you could get a more favorable response. I explained that the minute they walked in the door they would sense her hostility and react accordingly. I suggested that she pretend this is the first time they are meeting. Welcome them into her home and as the hostess, keep the conversation light.

At the same time, she can make wise decisions based on their experience with the misbehaving nephew. She has a right to set boundaries and enforce them if the parents don't. What could she do differently this time since he didn't listen previously to not touch the computer? Traci decided to remove the keyboard from the computer. She also denied him access to the hot tub, which he had damaged the previous year.

I asked Traci why she went along with the suggestion that she have Thanksgiving at her house each year when both she and her husband had to work the day before and after the holiday. Her explanation was that her relatives expected it. Does that mean she is stuck in a rut forever? No! I asked if she had considered going out to dinner. There are plenty of places now where you can have a tasty turkey dinner and more. Traci agreed that the concept sounded like a great solution.

Well, Traci did succeed in letting go of her battle gear and having a good time. The in-laws responded favorably to her relaxed body language, and having to control the obnoxious nephew was much easier because both Traci and her husband enforced the boundaries. They turned a deaf ear to his constant whining.

However, the next year, Traci and her husband decided to recapture the pleasure of the holiday by announcing to the family that they were not going to have Thanksgiving dinner at their house. They were going out to eat. Eventually someone else volunteered"the in-laws she disliked! All she had to do was bring a dessert. The nephew was happy because he was in his own house and everyone had a good time.

Here are specific examples of how hot buttons are pushed based on the four perceptual styles: Audio, Feeler, Visual, and Wholistic. In each instance the person is operating through his or her Limiting Tendencies rather than Empowering Tendencies. Therefore they are reactive and hope to get a reaction from you. Following each example is a remedy for defusing the situation.

Audio: Uncle Bob is always argumentative. He claims he is just playing the Devil's Advocate. But eventually it triggers a shouting match because he is also sarcastic. Uncle Bob wants to evoke a reaction because simmering beneath the surface is anger and he's looking for a way to vent. Once you react, he's won! He now has an excuse to shout to intimidate you. He uses his temper to control others.

Remedy: When you start seeing red, take a deep breath and assess the situation. If you can leave the room, do so to calm down. There is always a reason to go into the kitchen, whether it's to check on the food or to get a glass of water. If you feel you would be deserting the guests if you got up and went into the kitchen, change the subject. If appropriate, tell a joke"getting everyone laughing is a great way to defuse the situation.

Feeler: Aunt Jane enjoys being the martyr. The driving force behind her indignation is, "After all I've done for you and this is all the appreciation I get? So she will tell you her tale of woe or all of her worries. Her subconscious goal is for you to feel sorry for her and maybe even wallow with her in her self-pity"misery does love company!

Remedy: Sometimes just quietly listening to her is all she needs. She wants to pour out all her problems and worries. Then steer the conversation to things she has been doing. Sincerely compliment her on her accomplishments, no matter how small. She just wants to feel needed and appreciated. If she offers to help, by all means accept it!

Visual: John is frustrated with his life. It's just not turning out the way he had envisioned it. Subconsciously he wants you to feel as frustrated as he is. He might attack ideas with "No, it"ll never work." Or he might slip into a funk and use the silent treatment: "If you don't know what's bothering me, I'm not going to tell you." Either of those actions can frustrate you!

Remedy: Realize it's a game to control you. Keep that smile on your face when you say, "I'm really sorry, John, that you aren't having a good day. Hope you feel better soon." Then walk away. If it's at the dinner table, change the subject or turn your attention to someone else.

Wholistic: For years Chris has expressed resentment that she hasn't gotten her just rewards. She should have gotten that promotion, but then what do you expect? There is a glass ceiling for women! This resentment triggers irritability and moodiness. So sometimes Chris goes off and sulks. With a sour look on her face she withdraws from the others. She secretly likes the thought that others might be wondering what's her problem. "Good, let them wonder." When she joins the others for the holiday dinner, she manipulates the conversation so she can impose her opinion about why life isn't fair.

Remedy: Let her sulk. It's not your problem! Otherwise when she becomes negatively opinionated, you can quickly defuse the situation by saying, "You are entitled to your opinion. You brought up some points that I will have to think about." End of conversation! Even though you disagree, don't get into an argument with her. You will not win!

If you believe certain relatives will ruin the holiday again because they always do, you're setting yourself up for failure. You'll get what you anticipate. So throw away the battle gear and bring out the good cheer. It is possible to have "Happy Holidays."

About The Author
Carol Welsh, M.S. has over 25 years experience as a speaker and workshop facilitator. She's the author of STOP WHEN YOU SEE RED (2005). Her web site is


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