How to handle family stress over the holidays

The time around the holidays is a time to celebrate with family, but it’s not always what you might hope.

“For many people, rather than this being a peaceful, hopeful, and affirming time of year based on the true meaning of Christmas, they rather dread getting together with family members around the holiday,” said Ralph Whitaker, a counselor for WellSpan Philhaven.

Whitaker knows problems among family members surface this time of year.

“The family relationships themselves can be stressful depending on people’s backgrounds. My best guess is 25-40 percent of people find that the holidays are not a purely joyous time but of stress and strain,” he said.

There can be different reasons for conflict; anything from old battles brewing up again to an ever-changing family dynamic.

“They may not work for you because you grew up and left home and you come back and they still treat you like they did when you were a child or they never worked for you in the first place,” Whitaker said.

A key piece of advice from Whitaker: don’t expect family members to change just because it’s the holiday. Also, he says to make sure you set boundaries; give some room, but don’t compromise your sense of worth.

“You may have to apply the tough love principle, and that principle is that respect precedes love,” he said. “You can’t have a loving relationship with family members if they don’t respect you and treat you with respect.”

Above all, stay away if you need. Go into another room. And remember, it’s a whole year until the next Christmas gathering.

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