How to Get Through the Holidays or Family Gatherings

Hey everyone, the holidays can be difficult. It could be that you’re not watching this video around the holidays. That’s okay because this information could be helpful really at any time of the year.

What we’re going to talk about is, how to get through the holidays or family gathering and still feel sane when you leave. We’re socialized to believe in family. To be part of a family and to have those hallmark moments where everyone gets along. Those moments are supposed to be magical. The unfortunate part is that with most families there is dysfunction. We don’t pick our family members the way we would pick our friends. They don’t necessarily have the qualities nor the thoughts and feelings that we share.

It can be very dysfunctional growing up. There could be stuff that we haven’t overcome or resolved emotionally. Things that happened in the past. The goal here is to help you guys figure out a way to get through the holidays. Enjoy, at least the best you can, being with family around the holidays. So it’s like being at any other gathering.

The question is how do you make the most of the holidays or family gathering? How do you meet the expectations of others and, also meet the expectations that you have? How do you manage the emotional issues if they arise? How do you make the best of any situation that you’re presented with?

For those of you that don’t know me, I am Dr. Jerry Grosso. I am the Clinical Director at Nsight Psychology & Addiction in Newport Beach, California. I put out these videos to try to help you everyone see emotional health or mental health issues no different than you would see physical health.

You know, I get physically ill sometimes and I work towards physical health and wellness. It’s the same thing with mental health. I could struggle with mental illness. I could be depressed. I could be anxious. I could have some type of trauma that I’m trying to overcome or I could have certain issues that impact me. It’s a similar to catching a cold. My goal is to focus on emotional health. How can I function in a way that actually helps me to be happy, enjoy my life, and overcome difficulties when they come up? So that being said, let’s go back to what we’re talking about.

3 Things You Can Do to Help Get Through the Holidays

The holidays are coming up, or there could be a family event or anything like that. Here are three things to consider when you were planning to be a part of a family event to help alleviate that emotional distress and minimize your minimize dysfunction.

  1. Be aware of what feelings you are experiencing. What feelings you’re likely to have and how they may shape the way you see things. So it is very important that I understand that when I get around certain family members, this is how I feel. Like I may already be anxious. I already know that when I get around a specific individual, I know what I might feel. It doesn’t necessarily have to be anger. It could be irritable, it could be frustration, it could be fear that there’s going to be conflict. Because every time I’m around that person this is how I feel. Also my environment. I may know that when I get around my family, I start to feel good for a while and then it kind of switches on me. Maybe I start to get depressed. It’s important to know yourself and be aware of what it is that you’re feeling before you even get there.
  2. You want to know others. Meaning the people that you’re going to be around. What are the issues and emotions that are likely to arise when you are all together? What might be said by certain individuals? What’s likely to happen? And you could say, Jerry, how am I supposed to know? Well, if you spend some time thinking about it, you know yourself and what you feel. You could probably work your way back and look at certain themes that happen. Meaning when I’m around this specific individual, this is how they typically respond to me. This is what they typically say. This is what they’re going to do. I’m going to gravitate more towards this person. I’m going to try to avoid this person. Here’s he reason why we’re trying to do this. If I think about this stuff in advance, I know myself and I know others, I can start to predict what the outcome’s going to be. So before I even get to the situation, I have an opportunity to actually play it through and actually see where this, this whole thing might go. Because I know myself, I know others I can kind of predict how this will go.
  3. I want to make a plan. I have to decide in advance how do I want things to turn out? If you can predict the possible outcome, you can now influence it. As I was previously saying, think about the issues that might come up. Then you’re going to think about how you would respond to it. So if I know my brother might say something to me in a specific way or my sister might comment; I kind of already know based on previous experience what is likely to happen. Because of that, now I can start to make a plan that in the event this does happen the way I think it will. Then I can formulate a plan on what I might do.So here’s the thing; if it’s all perfect, you don’t need to do anything. Like if you all get along very well and the interaction is positive, I can let it go. But that’s not always the outcome. That’s why we’re having this conversation. So again, think about the issues that might come up and how you are likely to respond to them. Now again, you might not be a hundred percent accurate, but my guess is you’ll probably be pretty close. You can start to notice themes from previous encounters and pretty much figure out what it would look like.

How Do I Keep My Feelings in Check

At this point you want to stay in control of your feelings. You know, families are known to revert to old patterns. Even without knowing that they’re doing it. They can be very dysfunctional patterns or they can be functional patterns. We’re not really concerned about functional because then that would be great for everybody. But a lot of times, even though we become adults, the patterns that started when we were children could still be acted out.

There was a previous video I did about “Who is the Black Sheep in Your Family?Who is the Black Sheep in Your family” and “Are You a Rescuer?” Looking at what role you might play in the family, even if you have grown a ton emotionally, there could be this tendency to revert to old stuff. It’s kind of a weird phenomenon, but it happens all the time. All of a sudden you’re going to start being treated the way you used to be. So let’s say you started out as a black sheep. Now you’re actually extremely successful and productive. You do things really well and people may admire you for that. It’s not uncommon for family gatherings to happen. Then people start treating you like when you were a kid or when you were the black sheep.

The reason why I’m saying this is that you want to be prepared to respond to things instead of react to things when they’re not feeling healthy. So the tendency is both. So not only can family push us into old roles that we played, we can just unknowingly walk right back into it. We could have very healthy relationships now. But, for whatever reason, you start a family event and next thing you know, we’re back to dysfunction again.

What you want to know is what it is that you feel. What is likely to happen? Make a plan. So when things start to happen, you are prepared to be able to respond to it in a productive and healthy manner.

How Do I Create an Exit Strategy

The last part is to have an exit strategy. I want to set a plan in place about how I want the event to go. Then how I might want to end it. How I would want to close out the day or evening? I want to at least set some type of plan or time in advance of when I’d like to leave. Also, I would want a contingency plan that’ll allow me to leave sooner if things don’t go as planned.

So again, I’m kind of thinking this through. Like you know, what is likely to happen and how I would respond? How am I going to feel in the event certain things are said or done? How am I going to prepare for that? How do I keep it as healthy and functional as possible? How do I exit and making this, overall, an enjoyable, or at least a tolerable, event instead of something negative?

I may not be able to prevent dysfunction from happening. But what I want to be able to do is effectively manage anything that comes up or let’s say most anything that comes up. That way I can exit in a way that would be considered graceful.

So just to remind you, we’re not concerned with perfection at this point. The goal is to have a positive interaction. If I can do this successfully, maybe there’s hope that I can engage with my family and maybe make consistent changes over time. But, I will tell you this does take work. It does take work to change, not just in a specific instance, but over time. I want to change how my family treats me, how I treat them, how we interact, so we can get together and spend time together. Because that’s the family expectation. Also making sure that it’s a more of a positive interaction than an anything negative.

So I will wrap up with this. When I do these videos, they’re not a substitute for therapy. First of all, not everyone needs therapy. But in the event that you do, there’s certain issues that you want to overcome. There’s difficulties or things you want to know about yourself. Good psychotherapy can help you do that. It’ll help you overcome emotional difficulty.

So if you have emotional difficulties that are leading to mental health issues, maybe it’s severe depression, anxiety, or there’s trauma in your past that you’re trying to get over. Maybe you struggle with addiction and you’re self-medicating to try to avoid emotions or make yourself feel better. Therapy can be very effective in getting you to understand yourself better. Understanding why you feel a certain way, why you think a certain way and how you can resolve those challenges and really kind of help you develop into the person you want to be emotionally.

I’m going to reinforce this. You will hear me say this a ton. When you know yourself, and you know others, you can start to predict the likely outcome. When you can predict these things, you can influence the outcome.

That’s one of the important things to know about how therapy works and what the purpose is. I need to get to know who I am. Why I feel the way I do, and why I think the way I do. I want to be able to start looking at my environment, seeing consistent themes, and how I can start to predict actually what’s going to happen. I don’t need to be right 100% of the time. But the better I get at that, the more I can start to influence the outcome by developing a plan.

I’m Dr. Jerry Grosso from Nsight Psychology & Addiction in Newport Beach, California. Until next time, make sure you keep on growing.


Wikipedia Definition –  Dysfunctional family

Dr. Jerry Grosso

Dr. Gerald “Jerry” Grosso is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist with over 20 years of experience assisting individuals and families struggling with addiction, depression and trauma. He obtained his Bachelors of Arts degree in Psychology from San Diego State University before enrolling in Chapman University where he acquired a Master of Arts degree in Psychology.  Dr. Grosso continued his education and received a Doctorate degree in Clinical Psychology with a Specialty in treating Chemical Dependency. He holds a professional membership with the California Association of Marriage and Family Therapists (CAMFT).

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