Family Holidays can be a Contact Sport – Play it Tall

Updated: Apr 3

George Burns once said: “Happiness is having a large, loving, caring, close-knit family… in another city.”

My family is wonderful and I enjoy visiting them during the Holidays but for some people it is literally a contact sport. And sometimes there’s even bodily harm. I’m hoping to step in as your referee and help you manage to Play Tall without getting injured. Here’s some pointers on how to play the game.

Warm up

Stretching and warming up your muscles is great preparation before a big game so why not do the same before the big Christmas gathering. Start warming up to the fact that you aren’t responsible for anyone but you. Assuming you’d like something about this holiday to change, let’s warm up with some of the best plays I know, a few punts and maybe even a sack or two. You’re going to love winning this game!

Know the rules

You can ONLY be offended if you choose to be. I know it's a tough one - but yes, you are choosing it. Try a different choice. It's like watching the college football playoffs and your favorite team keeps running the same play over and over and it's not working! "What are you thinking?", you yell at the television, "try a different play!" Same thing here, try a different choice to not be offended. Just smile and let them be an idiot and see if that gets you some extra yardage in self-peace.

Pausing benefits everyone. Don’t people just shock you sometimes? Me too and I'm sure the shocked look on my face shows it but I’ve learned to pause my mouth first and let that filter kick in. So if Uncle Eddie insults you again … just pause, breathe and pour another eggnog. You won't regret it.

Allow it to happen. If you're feeling adventurous go ahead and allow them to vent or even allow them to be right. “Wow, I’m so sorry you feel that way.” Take the high road and see what happens this time. If nothing changes, then nothing changes, oh well. You’ll feel better for the way you responded and they can stay miserable being mean.

Walking away works. When your sister insults you again or your mom suggests you need to hit the gym, try this… “Oh gosh, I need to run to the bathroom, hold that thought, (or not) I’ll be right back”. This is a longer form of the pausing rule that gives everyone even more space. When you come back, they’ll be off badgering someone else. Or it could be the perfect moment to slide out the door.

Stand firm when necessary. Sometimes it’s just the right time to stand your ground and let them know where you draw the line. Here’s a cool way to do it well.

Be calm and unemotional while saying this, “It’s not ok with me that…. (fill in the blank). Here's an example, 'It’s not ok with me that you talk to me that way', or 'It’s not ok with me that you’re yelling'.

It’s the truth but you’re not demanding anything of them or trying to control them, you’re simply stating that what’s happening is not ok with you. You didn’t say what they’re doing is not ok or they’re not ok – you said it’s not ok with you.

They may keep yelling but you’ve let them know that for you, it’s not ok. Now it’s on them. They can do it or not, but they know where you stand. Then I suggest repeating the previous rule, walk away.

Wear protective gear

What other people think or say or do or the opinions they have and freely give are based on perceptions and beliefs they have in their own minds. It has nothing to do with you!! It’s all about them, so stop taking it personally!! It just makes you easy prey for them to do it again.

If you don’t take it personally – you become totally immune right in the middle of their meanness. That just makes me smile!:) Now you’re in control! Doesn’t that feel good? Great protective shoulder pads right there.

While we would love for them to cease and desist from all the crazy things they say and do, we simply can’t force others to change. We are the only ones we have control over and if I have to choose just one thing to control, it’s the power of my brain! If you can change a thought, you can change anything! About you, that is.

Attempting to control other people is called Over Responsibility and it actually puts you under THEIR control. If you decide you can’t be happy until your family member treats you right…their dysfunction will rule your life. They’re in control of you.

You may spend, or have spent, 20 years trying to please others so they accept you and they still might not. Or you could just “unhook” from that craziness by refusing to try to control them (over responsibility) and work on you and your powerful life (self responsibility). Be free to be you and set your relatives free to do the same.

My best piece of protective gear is good helmet! Be a good friend to yourself by reminding your brain how great you are. Try an affirmation audio (may I suggest Play Tall Affirmations:) that you can listen to in the days leading up to the event. It takes 10,000 repetitions to change a thought. That includes the thoughts you have about yourself! If you do the work before, you can stay detached while the drama and psychoses play out.


Don’t play when you’re injured

If these people have caused you harm in the past and you’re still healing from that, you might consider not being around them at all. Think long and hard about who you choose to have in your space and spend your energy on. That energy is precious – you need to choose wisely. Why reinjure yourself?

While there could be benefits from showing up at the obligatory family gathering, if it’s causing you real emotional harm and sucking the life out of you (and likely not benefiting them either) is it really necessary? Don’t play sports when you’re physically injured – and don’t play with those who emotionally tackle you.

Cool down

Playing any sport requires cool down time. Take time to reflect on the event after you leave and remember that you are only responsible for you. There is always a reason people act the way they do, so give them some grace they deserve; they're not perfect but neither are you.

Consider jotting down some of those awareness’s and reflections and maybe even a few personal growth areas for yourself to work on in the coming year. Not so that you can go back to next years Christmas party and prove them wrong, but just to keep growing into the best version of you that there is.

You are responsible for you.

You can control the response.

Play well my friends and Play Tall.

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