4 Ways to Deal with Dysfunctional Families

4 Ways to Deal with Dysfunctional Families

It’s a tale as old as time: braving the holidays with families that are less than, say “perfect.” Perhaps yours is so far from perfect they might be considered positively dysfunctional. Maybe there is a history of alcoholism or mental health struggles, or maybe they just don’t behave well. Whatever the case, experience suggests that it IS possible to have a joyful holiday celebration in spite of the curveballs a difficult family may throw at you. Here are our tips:

Keep it Light

It’s perfectly acceptable to stick to easy topics, keep things light hearted and not dig up the past. Someone once suggested treating dysfunctional people as if you were guests in a hotel lobby, casually chatting at the breakfast buffet – “Nice weather we are having!” While this might seem a bit superficial, it can be a sanity saver with tough family members and ensure you keep the peace. If you keep conversation light and cordial it will typically allow the surface level engagement to stay positive.

Don’t Take the Bait From Dysfunctional Individuals

A great trick deployed in Al-Anon (the 12-step fellowship for the loved ones of alcoholics) is getting used to saying “You might be right.” If your dysfunctional uncle starts engaging you with an offensive commentary about the state of the nation, it’s perfectly ok to not engage in a lengthy argument. In fact, it’s fine to say “You might be right” and bring the topic back to friendlier pastures. No harm, no foul. They are entitled to their opinions and you don’t have to change their minds. Of course, if you feel like it is your civic duty to offer an enlightening counterpoint – feel free. But keep it lighthearted, non-judgmental, and as friendly as possible.

Pitch in

When it doubt, help out. To avoid contentious arguments, questions about when you are finally going to get married, and other landmines, stay busy! Wash dishes, help with the cooking, play with the dogs, and keep the kids out of trouble. No one needs to know you’re avoiding them – you’ll just look like an altruistic soul who is in the holiday spirit. It is important that you are genuine in all your actions, being of service is a fantastic way to stay busy and focused on spreading positivity during the holiday season.

Grin and Bear It

Another great tip from our pals at Al-Anon, don’t expect too much. As they say, you wouldn’t ask someone with no legs to go running. Many of our most difficult family members do mean well, but just lack the skills or ability to behave differently. Simply letting them off the hook for their imperfections can be immensely freeing and allow you to enjoy the parts of the holiday that are pleasant. Shift your focus to finding small things to be grateful for and you’ll have a better day.

…But Know When to Leave

There’s no need to turn your holiday into a marathon of endurance. When you’ve enough dysfunctional interaction, it’s ok to leave. Especially if you are in recovery and things start to get a bit wild. If you’ve made an appearance, offered some pleasantries, and socialized a bit, it is ok to excuse yourself. Easy does it – with dysfunctional families, sometimes small doses are best.

Wherever you find yourself this holiday season, we wish you luck! We don’t get to choose our family, but we do have the opportunity everyday to be respectful to others, and engage with them at a level that keeps the peace.

We hope these suggestions help during the holidays. Here’s to many happy and healthy holidays ahead!

It's not the end. It's the beginning.