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Preparing Your Emotional Self For Family Gatherings

Family gatherings can be a challenge for many people, and during the holidays, many of us are preparing for a family get-together soon. Do you find yourself worrying about an upcoming family gathering? Have these events gone badly for you in the past? Maybe you fear the judgment of one overly harsh and critical family member who always manages to make you feel inadequate. Any number of difficult emotions can be triggered when we are around our family members, and most of us has experienced a time like this in the past.

If this sounds familiar to you, one of the most important ways you can help yourself get through a family get-together is to prepare your emotional self for what may happen. Here are 7 ways that you can prepare yourself for a family gathering.

  1. Expect that you will have an emotional response. Go into your family gathering knowing that you will likely become bothered, upset, or triggered at some point. Perhaps you even know the kinds of conversations or interactions that are particularly difficult for you. You will not feel as blind-sided by your feelings when you can predict that you will have them. This does not mean that you should generate these feelings if they are not happening within you, but be prepared for them if they do arise.
  2. Set boundaries. Set boundaries within your own mind and in your physical space. Do not let harsh comments from family members sink in too much, and if you need to, plan to only stay for at the gathering a certain amount of time. If you know you have some healthy boundaries around which to operate, you will feel safer and enjoy yourself more.
  3. Have a plan. Similarly, if you can anticipate what scenarios will be more difficult for you, make specific plans for how to handle it. Rehearse what to say to the aunt who always questions your career choice or try to seek out the person in your family who is safe and kind and spend your time with him/her. This is a small way that you can exercise some control over your experience.
  4. Practice acceptance. Much of our suffering comes from our inability to accept our present reality. For example, when family gatherings are difficult for you, perhaps you spend time and energy worrying, being stressed or anxious, or complaining about it. While these can be normal reactions, be aware of the outcome of using your energy that way. Most likely it only makes you feel worse (and sometimes it also makes the situation worse). Try to accept your family for who they are and how they operate, even if you wish they were different. See if this helps you let go of some of the negative thoughts and feelings you have.
  5. Remember your individuality. Keep reminding yourself that even though family dynamics can be powerful, you are your own person and can choose how to respond when you get actively involved with that group of people. If everyone else is gossiping, starts arguing, or gets negative, that does not mean that you need to participate.
  6. Get support. Have a support plan in place — have a friend to call who is outside of your family network and understands your unique struggles. Talk to a therapist if these family issues are making you want to avoid family gatherings or if you are getting more overwhelmed than usual by them.
  7. Get back to your routine. If you can rebalance your own personal routine (go to bed at a normal time, do your daily tasks) after a family gathering it may help you get your emotional state back in balance as well.
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