Making The Best of Christmas with Difficult Family Members

“The Lovely thing about Christmas is that it’s compulsory, like a thunderstorm, and we all go through together.”

– Garrison Keillor

blur face of a women seated on a sofa holding a coffee mug - christmas socks are the focus point

Christmas promises joyful carols, laughter, gifts, and a happy meal with those you love. 

But if we’re being honest, spending Christmas with the extended family can be stressful. You might have to deal with dysfunctional patterns, underlying resentment, unsolicited advice, intrusive questions, and the occasional angry outburst. But don’t despair. You can still have a merry time. Here are a few ways to deal with difficult family members. 

How To Deal With Difficult Family Members Over Christmas

Try Not To Fix Everything And Everyone

If you feel upset about something from the past or feel the urge to confront family members, don’t!

Christmas is not the right time to fix all those festering issues with family. Sometimes, it is just better to bury the hatchet and be cordial for a couple of days. This could set the stage for a better relationship and make it easier for the family to pursue therapy. 

Also, remember it is not up to you to fix everything. Instead, show kindness and compassion.

Get Some Alone Time

Christmas is an overwhelming time, even for the most functional families. There are relatives to catch up with and a lot of group activities. If you ever feel overwhelmed, take a break to recharge. 

You can schedule solo activities such as reading a book, star gazing or meditating. 

Try Not To Regress

Sometimes, family interactions trigger old wounds and coping mechanisms. You may find yourself reacting like your fourteen-year-old self, instead of a healthy adult with better-coping mechanisms.  

This is often frustrating and could leave you feeling vulnerable. Luckily, you are an adult now. So if you catch yourself regressing, take a deep breath and affirm your adulthood by reminding yourself of all your achievements and growth. 

Understand Your Family Member’s Coping Mechanism

Every member of the family has varied personality traits, expectations, and coping mechanisms. All these contribute to a complex family echo system that affects each family member differently. 

More often than not, your relative’s behaviour has nothing to do with you. It is just a way to cope with other family members. So show compassion and empathy and lower your expectations towards their behaviour. 

Set Boundaries

You can always say no to toxic family members, discussions, or triggering activities. Family gatherings are already stressful enough, so set boundaries to protect your mental health and keep you comfortable. 

Your boundaries can look something like coming home only for dessert instead of the whole meal or making it clear that you will not discuss your personal life or relationship. 


wood fireplace on the background and a coffee mug and bowl of popcorn on the front

If you feel too overwhelmed by your family get-together, schedule a debrief session with a trusted family member, friend, or therapist. 

This session allows you to discuss stressful interactions and negative emotions that may worsen if left unchecked. It will help you reflect on your relationships and coping mechanisms and help you identify a way forward.

Even the most dysfunctional families have a little bit of love and joy to share. So let it be a season of happiness and healing. Cheers.