Ep. 26: Surviving Holiday Get-Togethers

This time of year can be pretty special for most of us. It’s a time to be grateful and reflect on the beauty of family. And it can also be challenging. Family get-togethers are not always sunshine and rainbows. In fact, they rarely are!

With so many different opinions and personalities, what should be a time to come together and spread joy, can end in tense arguments across the dinner table, past wounds being re-opened, and difficult conversations that lead nowhere.

So how do we navigate the holidays with in-laws and extended family? How do we have a day of peace and joy without leaving exhausted by our loved ones?

Is it possible to get along with people whom we share family, but don’t have much else in common? Is it possible to enjoy it even?

Good news – Yes it is! And we start with compassion – first for ourselves, and then for our family.

Listen to Episode 26 to prepare yourself for the best Holiday get-together yet!

What You’ll Get From This Episode:

  • You can decide on purpose what to think and feel ahead of time. 
  • How calming your nervous system is the key to better communication.
  • Where curiosity leads the way to building connection with your family.
  • How being willing to feel your emotions will protect you from anger and resentment

Mentioned On The Show:

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Hi! This is Rachael Cunningham and you’re listening to Joyful Love, Episode 26!

Hello friends!

Today in Tennessee it's a little bit nippy outside. It’s not too cold yet – I just get chilly really easy so  it's that time of year that I start to wear scarves inside and really start to look forward to my time in front of the fireplace with a hot cup of tea instead of being on my back porch where it’s just too cold!  I’m a sucker for candles and christmas lights. And I’m the only one in my family that actually likes Christmas music.
The others in my magical little family tolerate it for me I’ve been known to start the christmas music before Thanksgiving … and I definitely hear the complaints then … which I just laugh about – because I too can admit that it’s a little ridiculous – but i do it anyway – because it’s what i like!

And this is also that time of year when many of us get together with extended family.

ANd that can bring up a whole lot of feelings every single year. From joy and excitement to frustration and even dread!

So – how do we navigate the family holidays together? How do we make the most of these special times? Without it wreaking havoc on your nervous system and your relationships?

Here’s the truth …. Managing your mind and bringing awareness to your own thoughts and feelings….Changes how you experience other people.

It changes how you interact with the world around you – especially with your parents and your in-laws!

And an incredible time to practice this type of thoughtwork even more is during the holiday season.  For so many of us, this is the time of year that we get together with extended family and come together to celebrate our connection and our family ties.

However, moving into the holidays – with all the prep work and extra business, mixed with our massive differences – from personalities that classh to politics and religion that could lead to arguments and frustrations – these family get togethers can feel daunting.

So how do we honor our family traditions and yet – actually have a good time!  Is it possible to show up with people whom we feel so differently from and enjoy their company even?

I believe it’s possible.

But we need to plan ahead of time how we want to think and feel during those get-togethers and intentionally practice high quallity thinking that will help us in the most challenging moments!

First – before the big get together, we need to have compassion for ourselves and the emotions that come up.

Let’s be honest here – most of us do have some family difficulties (or even trauma) that we have done a lot of work over – coming. So if you’re feeling a bit anxious or if you feel like you revert to your old childhood feelings everytime you step into your parents house – don’t judge that. Don’t use it as an opportunity to criticize yourself.

Rather, give yourself some extra love during that week. The hand on heart, deep breath kind of love that says, “Hey, of course this is going to be hard sometimes – and that’s okay. You’re doing great – you don’t have to be perfect. And you don’t have to prove anything going into this.”  Tell yourself, “You’ve got this.” You’re okay.

Expect to have feelings come up – don’t be surprised by them. Acknowledge them to yourself – “Hey there’s worry. Or , I feel judged. I feel small. I feel angry. I feel ignored or lonely in a room full of people.”   We’ll all have different feelings when navigating family get togethers and it’s okay.

Your childhood experience – your family’s unique personalities – and each of your own healing journeys in life are going create different opinions and ways of seeing the world and relating to it. And these differences will influence your thoughts and feelings when you get together.

Realistic expectations are step one in having a successful holiday gathering with extended family – whether that’s you’re own family or your in-laws. Sometimes difficult feelings will arise. And that’s okay. So offer yourself grace for those feelings. Nothing has gone wrong.

Step 2 is to decide what to think ahead of time.

You know – We all have someone in our family that’s hard to be around.

Maybe it’s your mom, your brother-in-law, your cousin, or whoever believes a certain way that you just can’t see eye to eye with … or maybe there’s that one person who always comments on the way your house looks, or the way the food tastes, or the way the government is ran, or keeps asking why you’re not going to church – or why you’re going to the wrong church! Right? We all have that someone who we have a fight or flight response to!

But here’s where you can begin to calm that fight or flight response …

If you know that a certain family member always makes the same comments that leave you feeling annoyed, or frustrated – you have the ability to choose how you want to think about that ahead of time.

So your usual thought might be, I can’t stand being around my husband’s mom this long. She’s so judgmental and obviously, she doesn’t think I’m good enough for her son yet – or whatever, right? Insert your own family drama here!

What can you decide, on purpose to think ahead of time?

You might think, “Of course they think this way, they have completely different experiences than me.” Or “Of course she’s reacting this way, she’s concerned.”

I love this little thought – Of course, they’re doing this … because it takes the focus off of the desire to defend yourself. When we feel judged or criticized – our animal brain starts to feel ostracized – and wants to go into defense mode.

But if we put the focus back on them – and remember that the way they show up says more about them than about ourselves – we can then intentionally show compassion and curiosity.

Compassion and curiosity are the two things that will  calm your own nervous system and help you to understand your family dynamics a bit more.

I also love the thought, “I love her unconditionally. She needs love just like every other human”

Thes are high-quality thougths that will never let you down!

So Imagine that your family is going to act how they normally do …

But remember, you have control over your own thoughts and feelings. And no matter what someone says to you – you get to choose how you will think and feel about it.

You get to choose to show up as your highest self and love in the midst of differing opinions, different personalities, and different abilities even!

If your family is loud and opinionated … how can you embrace the beauty that they speak their minds?

If they’re not sensitive to others’ struggles in life – how can you be the example of being compassionate and understanding – and if someone in your family is vulnerable to criticism or judgment – you get to be the one to create a safe space for them – through words and actions.

If you disagree on politics and religion – how can you get curious and seek to understand them more? Seeking to understand the other side is going to build the human connection that we all need so much quicker than trying to get them to understand you.

So the solution is not to HOPE they won’t say anything you don’t like.

It’s not to try to get them to once and for all understand your points of view …

And it also doesn’t have to be to avoid them at all cost!

The solution is to decide on purpose, what to think and feel ahead of time.
You can practice those thoughts before you see them and choose to feel peace, love, and joy in the moment. You can choose your actions during your family time instead of REacting out of anger, frustration, or exhaustion.

So if your mom says something about your parenting choices, you might normally think, “she doesn’t support me. Or she’s still trying to control me”  And you’ll feel defeated.  

But if you choose ahead of time to think, “Of course she’s saying that – she thinks it will help. Her entire life experience, the way she was brought up, the culture that she’s in right now – have all taught her that there is a different way to parent than what I’m doing.

She’s worried or concerned like many moms are!”  

Now you can feel more neutral about your moms words. You can stop taking them personally and as an attack against you.

It’s so important to remember that other peoples actions and words mean more about them than they do about you.

When you remember this, you can then approach others with the compassion and understanding that you are hoping for in return.

Now that said, of course, some feelings are difficult to change. If you feel unsupported or judged – it may take some practice to really trust yourself and not let others’ words affect you greatly.

This is where you get to allow yourself to feel the disappointment that some family members won’ know how to support you. And it’s an opportunity again to give yourself compassion for your own feelings.

Give yourself the grace to feel any emotion that comes up.

If you allow yourself to feel – you know what that’s going to help?  It’s going to keep you from feeling so angry with your family. It’s going to protect you from feeling exhausted.

Be willing to feel disappointment



Name those feelings while you’re at it! Bring awareness to them… Just to yourself – while you’re sitting around the table – hearing opinions and thoughts that you don’t normally engage with … and tell yourself, “I’m feeling disappointed right now. I trust myself to feel disappointment.” Or I’m feeling patronized right now … I trust myself to feel the emotion of patronized.”  I’m feeling misunderstood right now – I trust myself to feel misunderstood.” I know these emotions are temporary and I don’t have to shove them away.

When you’re willing to feel these kinds of emotions, the secondary emotions of anger, bitterness, and resentment – they don’t show up as much.

Ok, I do want to briefly discuss boundaries here …  

Because without a doubt, you also need to understand your own rules for your house and your space.

So if you have a dad who likes to joke about how chunky you’re getting – tell him, “Hey, dad, comments about my weight are not acceptable”. Stand firm in that decision.

Or if mother-in-law wants to discuss how her religion tells her that being gay is a sin – and you have a gay son … tell her ahead of time – “we will not use this family time to discuss whether or not my son is wrong.”  

Right? You set the boundaries ahead of time and have a way to honor those boundaries set in place. One misconception is that you have to be angry enough to set boundaries. I believe the best boundaries are set ahead of time with intention and love for all involved and clear consequences –  instead of in the moment out of frustration and anger.

And maybe you won’t voice the boundary ahead of time – maybe you’ll simply decide ahead of time what to do if this situation arises – and then in the moment, you’ll say with kindness “Hey we’re not going to discuss this right now. I love you – I value you, but for the sake of everyone – this discussion needs to end for now.”

So as you approach the holidays, think about how you normally think and feel …

If you think, “oh god, there my sister goes again – she’s such a bitch” You’re going to feel like crap – my friend. Criticism and blame lead nowhere besides you feeling angry and frustrated by the end of the night.

So what if instead, you were to think “I love her. Of course, she’s saying this … it’s how she’s learned … She’s doing the best she knows how”  How might you feel then? How might you show up then? How might you seek to get curious and understand her and connect with her more?

Now you’ll notice this is harder than you plan for! In the moment your body is going to react almost out of habit from a lifetime of reacting in the moment to your family!

But I want you to know the more you practice choosing thoughts that create the emotions you desire ahead of time – the more calm and emotionally mature you will be in the moment. The more you will get to skip the added drama in your life that is only holding you back from more love and deeper connection with your family.

Choosing your thoughts and feelings on purpose helps you to take your power back over how you show up.

You’ll notice when you get together with your family, your brain wants to revert back to childhood – we start to feel like we stepped back in time again – with all the insecurities, and figuring out where we fit – we have a need to prove ourselves and convince our families to validate us and be proud of us

It’s normal. It’s just what our brains do.

So let’s recap … how to direct our brains to a better way….

#1. Have compassion and understanding for yourself and your feelings.

Remember – the more compassion and kindness you have for yourself – the more compassion and kindness you will have for that family member that desperately needs it too!

#2 Decide ahead of time how you want to feel. Maybe it’s compassion, or Peace, Or even humorous! Right – let’s bring a little humor to our differences this year! Practice choosing high quality thoughts that will create these kinds of feelings ahead of time during this holiday season – Practice choosing thoughts that won’t send you to the bathroom crying or emotionally exhausted by the end of the day!

# 3 Be willing to see other people’s words as neutral and understand that how they show up in life says more about their experience of life and about them – than it does about you.

# 4. Get curious as to what caused them to think and believe the way they do. Seek to know them more – ask questions about them and what lead them to the path of believing like they do!

# 5. Remind yourself that they are worthy of love no matter what simply because they are human!

# 6 Create intentional boundaries where needed to protect your or someone elses emotional and physical well-being.

# 7. Don’t feel like you have to be perfect in this – Be willing to feel your emotions instead of resisting them or avoiding them.  

When you combine these emotional adulthood skills  – watch the magic happen with your family! Watch the actions that follow be something you’re super proud of!

And at the end of the day – when you lay your head on your pillow – you’ll be tired. You’ll be glad to rest – but you’ll have peace – peace knowing that you were in charge of creating your own emotions  … and NOONE else was given that power.

And you’ll have peace knowing that you showed up as your highest, wisest, most loving self.

This is how we change the world folks – one relationship at a time.

Have an incredible holiday weekend.

There will be one more episode next week all about how to process feelings and emotional pain – another timely episode for the holidays! So if you’re in the United States,  and you’re getting ready to Come together for the Thanksgiving holiday … Come back next week for that one!

Between this episode and the next – you’ you’ll be ready tackle every family holiday from now until the end of the year!

If your partner has a hard time with family holidays too — this is a great episode to have them listen to!

And if you’re ready to invest in your own brain – and be coached weekly on how to create a life and marriage that feels good to be in, I have a few spots open this month! Jump on a free call with me to see if coaching is the next best step for you!

Alright … take care of each other, Lovers!

I’ll talk to you again next week!