“They tell us we’re supposed to be grateful for what we have all year, and especially at Thanksgiving. We get together with our families and we’re supposed to demonstrate our appreciation for having them in our lives. But I’m not grateful for my family. In fact, I can’t stand them. They’re not nice people and they’ve treated me terribly over the years. We never have happy holidays … it’s usually a lot of drinking and fighting, and I’d rather not be there. So what am I supposed to do?”

What you see in the movies and on social media paints a perfect picture of families and the holidays. We view images of smiling people hugging each other, serving platters of perfectly prepared food in beautifully decorated houses, and at some level, we start to believe that’s what families are supposed to be like.

For many people, families are far from wonderful. Their immediate family and close relatives are a constant source of conflict, rather than comfort. Some carry the scars of hurts that were inflicted years ago. Some battle mental health issues such as substance abuse. Some are ready to argue at the drop of a hat. And when all those imperfect people are gathered in a room in the pressure cooker we call a holiday get-together, it creates a volatile mix that can explode with little effort. Nobody posts those images on Facebook and Instagram.

So what can you do if your family makes the holidays miserable? You walk into the house knowing that Aunt Carol is going to be stumbling and slurring after her fourth drink, Grandpa will be waiting for a fight about the President, cousin Pete will be telling racist jokes, creepy Uncle George is going to demand a too-long kiss and hug, and your sister is going to humiliate you by telling everyone that story about what happened on your eighth birthday.

You probably can’t avoid the holidays altogether, but what you can do is prepare yourself for what’s likely to happen. If you find it impossible to be grateful for your family, concentrate on what you can be grateful about. Who and what in your life are you thankful for? Think about those people and things, and if you can, spend more time with them. Find activities that bring you joy and try to spend more of your time doing them.

Set boundaries so you’re not forced to spend as much time with the family. If you can’t bear the thought of an all-day Thanksgiving, say that you have others to visit, and plan to show up an hour before dinner is served, then excuse yourself after dessert. If family members try to draw you into arguments, don’t take the bait. Smile and change the subject or turn and talk to someone else. It takes two people to argue, and you don’t have to be one of them. Find the people you can be around and avoid the others.

One other way to make your family holidays less stressful is to take a break from social media for a week or so on either side of the holiday. That way, you won’t be subjected to all those posts from people whose lives appear to be perfect (and by the way, they’re not), and you won’t have to read posts from the family members who infuriate you.

What can you do if all this isn’t enough and you’re filled with dread, or if the holidays have already passed and they did you in? A good way to start is to contact us to set a time to talk with one of our professional counselors. We can take the time to develop an understanding of your situation and give you the tools you need to cope. You may never be ecstatically happy about the holidays, but we can help you keep from being miserable.

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