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How to Deal With Difficult Family on Thanksgiving

Would you like a thinly disguised insult with your turkey?  An exasperating political discussion with your pumpkin pie?  Family gatherings are hard enough without the Rockwellian pressure of Thanksgiving.  Have no fear. Savvy Psychologist has 7 tips to get you through with your sanity (mostly) intact.

By
Ellen Hendriksen, PhD,
November 24, 2017
Episode #047

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A wise person once said “dysfunctional family is redundant.”  I know my extended family includes its share of characters and I’m sure yours does, too.  

You spend most of the year (hopefully) insulated from family shenanigans, but when everyone from alcoholic Uncle Milt to judgy cousin Carrie is devouring turkey around your dining room table, it can get a little dicey.  

To that end, here are 7 tips for dealing with difficult family members on Thanksgiving (or at any family gathering, for that matter):

Tip #1: Practice Socially Acceptable Avoidance

I don’t usually advocate for avoidance, but if it’s just to get you through the holiday weekend, I’ll cut you yards of slack.  Socially acceptable ways to get out of the house entirely to avoid family are to volunteer at a community Thanksgiving for the less fortunate, run a turkey trot 5K, or even get started on your holiday shopping (be sure to tell family you’re looking for presents for them).  

If you must stick around, focus on judiciously avoiding the one or two people you know you’ll have a hard time with.  When Aunt Dottie sets her sights on you, go see if folks in the kitchen need a hand, offer to head out for more ice, or round up a group for a brisk walk and get out of the house.  In the end, do whatever works.  Again, avoidance doesn’t work in the long run, but used wisely, it can get you safely through until it’s time for pumpkin pie.

Tip #2: Find a Buddy

Find a like-minded relative (you’ll spot her also trying to suppress eye rolls) and agree to look out for one another.  For example, rescue your cousin from getting cornered by Uncle Rick (after all, you really need help with these mashed potatoes); in return, ask her to suddenly, urgently need your assistance when your sister tries to ask you for money.

Tip #3: You Don’t Have to Serve Booze

A straightforward, though perhaps controversial, method to cull the drunken behavior is not to serve alcohol.  You run the risk of Uncle Milt heading off to the liquor store for a bottle of Jack, but your message will be clear.

If you’re feeling brave, you could also talk to the usual suspect beforehand.  Explain that you’d love to celebrate Thanksgiving with him or her, but the person they become when they’re drinking is simply not welcome.

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