Boundaries · Boundaries for kids · Character · Christianity · Christmas · Family Life · Parenting · Relationships · Uncategorized

The Most Wonderful Time of the Year? Dealing with Difficult People at Christmas

Woman tired of gift wrapping

When it comes to people and their relationships, there is never a shortage of problems.

But at Christmas, it’s supposed to be different.  Isn’t it a time of peace and goodwill to men after all?

Unfortunately, it’s often worse at Christmas.  I think that the stress related to difficult situations increases because of an increase of face-to-face contact with difficult people.

You know them.  Your family has them and so does mine.  Toxic, dysfunctional, negative, defensive, contrary… just a few words that come to mind.  They come in all sizes and ages and you have to see them only once a year.

But now it’s that time of year.

How can you navigate the holidays when you have people like this running around stealing everyone’s joy?  I think you can.  People only have power over you if you give it to them.

So we need to make sure you don’t give it to them.

That sounds easier than it is, but here are a few survival tips for not letting other people control your Christmas joy.

  1. Refuse to get in the mud. Often I have parents look at me strangely when we are discussing their difficult children and I encourage them to do this.  We often convince ourselves that we lose power, if we don’t prove we are right.  It took me over ten years of living with a child with serious emotional impairments and an insatiable need to argue to realize how foolish I was to engage someone who really just likes to play in the mud.  For some people, it isn’t about the argument, but seeing you get upset and having the power to control that.  There are also difficult people who like to be right…all the time.  But the know-it-all is merely stuck in an elusive cycle of insecurity and needs to make sure nobody else sees it.  I think the most powerful thing you can do is walk away from the insanity.  Close your eyes and think happy thoughts (none that involve hurting the difficult person in front of you!), take a trip to the bathroom, or pray under your breath.  Do whatever is necessary to not get sucked into the mud.  You only get dirty and you discover the pig likes it.
  2. Set yourself up for success. In other words, have an action plan ahead of time based on past experiences.  If the whole family has to deal with the difficult person, have a family plan.  Anything from making up a special “cue” so everyone knows when it’s time to leave, to driving yourself to family events so you can leave a situation or person, at will.   The less power you give a powerful person, the better.  If that person happens to be your child, clearly spell out boundaries and take action, if and when any of those boundaries are crossed.  Make sure you and your spouse are on the same page for that action and follow the plan.  And for goodness sake, don’t worry about defending your success plan.  Just decide to be healthy.
  3. Set clear boundaries. Speaking of boundaries…it’s really okay to set some for the grown-up people in your life, too.  Many years of working with difficult people has helped me understand a very important truth: difficult people behave in difficult ways because it works for them. Whether it is your child’s behavior, a customer’s irate mannerisms, or a family member who shirks responsibility, it typically comes back to one thing: a pay-off. Difficult people, like difficult children, do what gets results for them. What is the payoff?  When they bump into someone who doesn’t give them the expected pay-off, they either change the behavior or move on to someone else who will pay.  Either one of these can reduce your holiday stress!
  4. Kill them with kindness. Despite their treatment of you, you can (and should) still conduct yourself in a manner worthy of the gospel. Even if you have to speak up and set difficult boundaries, do it gently. I say this because it’s often thought that speaking up means doing so in a confrontational, obnoxious way. Nothing is further from the truth! And don’t think being kind means suffering silently. Sometimes the kindest thing you can do is confront a bully or end an unhealthy conversation.  Do it humbly.  You don’t need to attack the person to challenge an idea.  I like to think that if you love people more than you fear them, and seek to preserve the relationship, you should be able to say even the hardest things kindly.

Finally, maybe the greatest gift you can give this Christmas is the gift of grace. Isn’t that the real meaning of Christmas anyway?

Expectations run high during the holiday season.  Some of the greatest disappointments come from those unhealthy expectations all of us have. Letting people off the hook and refusing to negatively interpret people’s behavior at the family Christmas event goes a long way in promoting peace.

Proverbs 19:11 says, “…it is to one’s glory to overlook an offense…”

Could there be a better time of year to offer that gift?

Spread a little more Christmas grace and cheer and I’m convinced you’ll ward off a whole lot more of the dreaded Christmas drama.


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