I know how hard the holidays can be for remaining mindful and present in the face of outward influencers like being back in the family homestead, the bickering across the Christmas dinner table, 'helpful advice' from loved ones, the pre-conceived notions about what you should be doing with your life. We all get it!
So i asked the amazing Dr. Deanna Brann answer some of those common questions we ask over Christmas, and to offer some tips on how to keep your sanity when all around you have gone to pot. Dr. Brann has great tips on how you can flip the equation, and see it as a good thing rather than nightmare.
Dr. Deanna Brann, PhD award-winning clinical psychotherapist, in-law expert and author of 'Reluctantly Related Revisited: Breaking Free of the Mother-in-Law/Daughter-in-Law Conflicts' says starting this holiday season, is the perfect time to rethink how you want to “be” with your family, particularly your in-laws. Instead of dreading the occasion, consider it a perfect opportunity to try something new to make the holiday a win-win for everyone.
Read my exclusive interview here
1. What are the key stress triggers when you're home for the holidays?
Our own frame of mind-mentally & emotionally
2. How can we pre-empt these triggers and act accordingly to calm ourselves down before we feel our blood pressure climbing.
1. Have realistic expectations, but be open – Remember you are going to be spending the day with family. It’s OK to hope for the best but be realistic. Don’t let inflated expectations ambush you. Never assume people are going to be on their best behavior and act differently just because it is a holiday. Families are families. They are going to act how they always act—maybe worse.
2. However, if you expect or assume someone in your family is going to treat you badly you will likely see all of his or her actions through that veiled perspective. This sets both of you up to walk away with a bad experience.
3. Also, find humor in anyone’s words or actions that seems to be pushing your buttons. This will help you create an emotional distance that will make it easier for you to not take their words or actions so personally.
3. Why do Mothers-In-Law feel the need to draw comparisons between ourselves and themselves?
Mothers-in-law want to feel relevant; they want to feel they still have purpose. It is often difficult for a MIL to emotionally move away from her role as “Mother” and the “privileges” that that gave her. Both MILs and DILs compete for the influence they each have over the son/husband, although they do so unknowingly. So, drawing comparisons is just one aspect of how this competitiveness shows itself.
4. How can we cope with our Mother-In-Law, tell her her actions are not ok and yet not cause an argument?
In general, the key is to help your 'MIL' know how and where she fits into your family because it is important to her that she has a place there. How you do this depends on the type of 'MIL' you have:
If you have a Mothering Margaret, who has good intentions, but is struggling with her new role, it is best to set boundaries with her; but do so with kindness and compassion. Let her know the ways she can be helpful. And when she does something that is not OK with you, then gently let her know but include in your statement a way for you both to get what you want.
For example: If she stops by unannounced you can say to her, “Oh, I’m so sorry this is such a bad time. I’m right in the middle of _____________ or I’m just getting ready to leave. Why don’t I give you a call tomorrow and let’s schedule lunch for later this week... that would give us a chance to have some uninterrupted time together.” And then when you are at lunch you can say, “I feel so bad about the other day when you stopped by and I couldn’t talk. You know what would probably work better for both of us? If you could call before you stop by to make sure I’m not running off or in the middle of something….that would be such a great help.”
If you have an Off-the-Wall Wanda, who completely disregards boundaries and will do whatever it takes to get what she wants, you want to still set boundaries, but with her you also need to give consequences when she chooses to disregard your wishes. You do not worry about getting her to understand your boundaries and why you are setting them. She doesn’t care. The only thing you are focusing on is changing her behavior. If you explain, justify, debate, or rationalize what you are saying, she will take that as an opportunity to wear you down so she can get what she wants. So it is important that you state you boundaries and consequences with no discussion.
For example: If she talks about inappropriate things on the phone with you when she calls, you can say (keeping in mind you will need to interrupt her because she will just keep rambling if you don’t), “I am fine talking about different things with you, but I will not talk about __________ or __________. If you bring either of those things up again I am going to hang up.” And then when she begins talking about them again (whether this phone call or another)—hang up the phone. You can say,”_____(her name), I’m hanging up now,” but hang up before she tries to get you into a discussion.
5. Why do siblings fall into the same old patterns when they're home for the holidays? i.e., fighting over the remote control/ bickering over trivial things etc.
It goes back to our personal histories and life experiences (our emotional baggage). These childhood experiences that impact us physically, mentally, and psychologically, are something we carry within us. Often we are unaware that these experiences—the good and the bad—continue to influence us well into adulthood. There is also a familiarity with family that registers with us at a very deep level; it is something that is embedded in us to the degree that we fall back to what we “know” (this deeper level).
There is also a comfort level with this. Even when this comfort level is not a positive experience, it is familiar, thus there is comfort in what is familiar.
6. Again, how do we 'rise above it' and not get drawn into old patterns and arguments?
The best thing to do is follow these steps:
Before being around your family:
1. Be aware that it will happen.
2. Recognise which family members trigger what in you—get as specific as you can.
3. Decide, in advance, how you want to respond instead.
When you are with your family:
1. Remind yourself who triggers what in you.
2. Remind yourself in what ways and with whom you will respond differently.
Deanna Brann, Ph.D. has over 30 years of experience in the mental health field as a clinical psychotherapist specializing in communication skills, family and interpersonal relationships, and conflict resolution. After running her own private practice for more than 20 years, she spent time later in her career providing business consultation to other private practice professionals in the health care and legal fields. As both a mother-in-law and daughter-in-law, her own personal experiences led her to research the subject. Her first book, Reluctantly Related, began the discussion of examining and bettering the MIL/DIL relationship and is followed by her newest book, Reluctantly Related Revisited. Brann holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Psychology, a Master of Science degree in Clinical Psychology, and a Ph.D. in Psychobiological Anthropology.