Christmas isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. You may even be dreading it – even now as I write this in November – not least because it involves spending time with people who you have a tricky, or dreadful, relationship with. Family dynamics grip hard, and it’s common to regress to feelings of adolescence (or, similarly, toddlerdom) even if those years feel decades behind you. You might always be ‘the youngest sibling’, even in your 40s.
My first question around fears of family festivities is whether you need to be there at all – maybe you really don’t, or at least you can avoid it for one year without great fall-out. But if the price of skipping a usual family Christmas is too great, then do you have to be there for the usual stretch of time? Would it be possible to contract it down at all to a few hours or a day or just a night?
And when you get there, I know that insight isn’t enough. It doesn’t help just to know that we may get intensely annoyed or upset by another, but it may help to prepare ourselves for the inevitability. Spend a little time reminding yourself that behind the anger, or annoyance, or other upset, there is a vulnerability that only you can attend to now – for example a deep-seated hurt that you can try to soothe, instead of being disappointed again by another. In other words, it’s about giving yourself some compassion for the younger you who still feels an injustice in the face of another. Most people find this a really difficult thing to do, so the next best thing may be to imagine you are someone else – another young child in distress, who is far easier to comfort.
The other trickier bit is to believe that we are all doing the best that we possibly can – and this includes the people who upset us. This doesn’t mean we have to let them off any hook, but it may work just to get you through a day. It may also help to keep busy – chopping vegetables, suggesting distractions from potentially awkward moments and trying new things….