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Building Mental Resilience: How To Survive Family Gatherings

Updated: Jul 25, 2023

How To Be Less 'Game of Thrones' and more 'Happy Days'!

Family. As the saying goes, “you can’t live with ‘em, and you can’t run away and change your name by deed poll to escape them.” Or something like that, anyway.

Maybe you get on well with your family and see them regularly, or maybe you can only survive for a few hours in their presence before the police are called.

Whichever side of the fence you fall on, seeing family can bring up all sorts of feelings and thoughts, some positive and some negative.

Out-growing Your Box

The difficulty is that families like to put you in a nicely labelled box; because they think they understand you - based on who you were as a child.

This means that they feel uncomfortable when you decide to grow out of the box and develop yourself; or when you decide to set new boundaries.

Because people generally don’t like too much change, they will make sure they say and do things to push all your old buttons to prove that their perspective of you is correct. This usually involves bringing up embarrassing old stories or events that you have long since moved on from… until you are back with your family.

Building Your Survival Skills

The trick to surviving family gatherings is to prepare yourself well in advance. I’m not talking about some kind of 80’s movie training montage, where you're lifting weights, dancing, stretching and then running up a long flight of stairs - I mean you can if you want to, physical exercise does help with mood - I just mean mentally preparing yourself.

Here are 6 things you can do to build your mental resilience in preparation for family gatherings.

1. Plan Your Response

Make a list of topics that have previously upset you and write down two different ways you could positively respond to each one. Choose the one that feels most natural to you and visualise yourself giving your new positive, confident response. Refresh this on the morning of the event.

2. Challenge Your Thoughts

Write down any feelings and associated thoughts that you are having about the event. Use my ‘Free Your Thoughts’ download to identify if any of these are common negative thought traps, and practise challenging the thought with evidence. Remember, you can’t control what other people say and do, you can only control how you respond to it.

3. Balance Your Expectations

If you are responsible for the event, plan the day carefully and try to accommodate everyone’s needs as best as you can. It will be impossible to please everyone, and some people only seem to be happy if they are complaining, so take pride in what you have done and remind yourself that you aren’t responsible for other people’s reactions.

4. Calm Your Mind & Body

Practise deep belly breathing to stimulate the vagus nerve and put your body in a rest response. Place one hand on your chest and one hand above your belly, but below your ribs. Close your eyes and breathe in deeply through your nose, slowly pulling the air deep into your abdomen. Your lower hand should move, while the hand on your chest should stay still. Allow all the air to flow out of your lungs and pull your tummy back towards your spine. Repeat for 10 breaths.

5. Reward Yourself

Plan a reward for yourself if you make it through the encounter without responding negatively to people’s comments or prodding.

6. Practise Non-judgment

Do make sure that you are not also falling into the same trap and expecting people to behave in a certain way based on their past performance. People change, and going into the day with no expectations, no preconceived ideas and no judgment can help you get to know your family better too.

Just make sure you are listening to what is being said, and what isn’t being said. It’s never too late to build better relationships.

Finally, remind yourself that you never know when your family will no longer be there for you, so savour the time you have together, no matter how difficult it may seem in the moment. Cherish the time you have together and be open and authentic.


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