For many, Christmas is a time of joy and festivities, but it can also be a time filled with dreaded questions from family members and family friends. “When are you starting a family?”, “When are you settling down?”, and “When are you getting a real job?”.
Some of these questions might be alcohol-fuelled nosiness from extended family members and ‘fun’ uncles who are ‘just teasing’ but they can leave you feeling upset, disappointed, or judged.
The first thing to say here is that if you are really dreading seeing your family for Christmas – perhaps there is some unresolved trauma, discrimination, abuse (historical or present) – then you shouldn’t feel obligated to see them just because it is Christmas. You do not have to be a blood relation of someone to be their family. You can spend Christmas with friends, with your partner, with your partner and their family, or with your own kids.
That being said, if you are spending time with your family and – yes there might not be abuse, trauma, or discrimination involved, but there might be some familial pressures and judgements – here are some tips to prepare yourself and cope with it as it comes.
Tips on how to cope with societal pressures at Christmas
1. Calm your nerves before an event
It is very easy to go into a situation already feeling tense because you are anticipating an argument. This almost always becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy and arguments are likely to ensue.
Try to ease your anxiety and stress prior to family gatherings by doing something that will relax you. It might be heading to the gym, doing some yoga, spending some time meditating, going on a walk, or talking with a friend.
If your baseline stress level isn’t as high, you are more likely to be able to tolerate the questions that might be coming your way.
2.Set realistic expectations
People don’t tend to change in leaps and bounds, especially if they are quite set in their ways and haven’t had any nudges to change. So it can be helpful to set realistic expectations for what will happen at the next family event in order not to feel let down or blindsided by relatives.
So perhaps, instead of expecting Aunt Margery to sing your praises, maybe it is enough that she didn’t criticise your outfit this year.
It can be helpful to remember that family members of different generations might have greatly differing views on how we should all be living our lives and, while you might not think it is right that Granny believes you should be at home raising a family, that might be all she knows and a value that was instilled in her by her own parents and grandparents.
3. Have some answers prepared
It can be helpful to have some answers prepared for the questions that you really don’t want to answer. These prepared answers can help to steer the conversation back into safer waters as well.
Maybe when Uncle Bob asks you why you haven’t settled down yet, you could answer this by telling him that you are focusing on your career and these are some of the things that you have achieved and ‘how’s work going for you Uncle Bob?’ An easy answer that you can use with most questions is ‘let’s not get into that right now’ and then move the conversation into a more light-hearted territory.
Ultimately, the only thing that you can control is your reaction to others. You cannot control that someone might ask you a particular question, or sound condescending or judgemental while doing so. However, you can control the way that you react to it. You can stay calm, deliver your prepared answer, and move the conversation forward.
Perhaps if you are feeling feisty you could ask Uncle Bob why he is so concerned with the state of your love life and explain that you are focused on your career right now and will let him know if and when this changes. This might put Uncle Bob in his place but it could also cause an argument so please proceed with caution.
4. Keep compassion in mind
Compassion for yourself and compassion for other people is a great way to remain calm when you may feel anything but. To have compassion and self-compassion is to understand that no one is perfect, and that being flawed is okay and is part of the human experience.
The recognition of common humanity entailed by such compassion allows us to be more understanding and tolerant of own own inadequacies and the inadequacies of others.
If this Christmas and New Year make you aware that you need some professional support, give us a call. We have therapists who specialise in depression, anxiety and relational difficulties. Give us a call on 020 8673 4545 or email us on [email protected].