AVOIDING HOLIDAY DRAMA
How to Avoid the Inevitable Drama of Family Holidays
WHAT'S A DRAMA?
We’re attracted to each other’s positives but we encounter each other’s negatives when we get in close. Our flaws rub up against each other and friction occurs. Now, friction can be either bad or good. A single grain rubbing against your eyeball can cause blindness but sand paper rubbed against wood makes it beautiful. Friction occurs in all relationships and the closer the contact, the more likely the conflict. Relationships are good when we handle our inevitable frictions well.
But, some people don’t handle frictions well. We sometimes call them “unreasonable” because they lack what reasonable possess—the desire and willingness to resolve differences. More often, we refer to them using some unflattering term like nut, jerk, wacko, or creep (to list a few of the nicer ones). But we also call them “drama queens,” reflecting what happens in close relationships—the staging of dramas. By the way, drama queens can be male or female.
Here’s how the drama works. If I’m an unreasonable person, the only way you and I can have a “good” relationship is for both of us to play our roles. For instance, I may be a controller and getting along means that you submit to my control. Or, I may be a victim and we get long only when you rescue me. Or, I may be a care-taker and a good relationship happens only when you let me take care of you. The drama requires you to play your role and if you don’t, there’s trouble. It’s the spoken or unspoken drama obligation that makes these relationships so uncomfortable. Again, it’s one thing to watch a drama but quite a different thing to be caught in it.
So, why are there holiday dramas? Because holidays are times when people assemble in groups, some of which contain drama queens. This may be the office party or the family gathering. If the drama queens stay home, these are pleasant occasions. But if they show up—and they always seem to—they bring their dramas with them. And that’s when we wish we’d stayed home. So, the challenge is to enjoy the get-togethers but avoid the dramas.
HOW TO AVOID DRAMAS
Dramas are hard to escape, especially if you’re related to the drama queen. So, if your holiday gatherings involve drama participation, here are some ways to enjoy the people while staying out of the dramas.
1. Make Your Plans
If you don’t plan your holidays, someone else may very well plan them for you. It’s easier to decline invitations if you already have plans in place. For example, “We can’t come then because we’ll be out of town” works better than, “Are you kidding. I’d rather stand in an ant bed than spend time with you guys.”
2. Limit Your Contact
If you do attend, it helps to do so with limits that work well for you. This means you could show up later, stay less time, or leave sooner than the others. It may help to schedule another event around the same time to have a legitimate excuse for arriving late or leaving early. Most unreasonable people are tolerable if taken in smaller doses.
3. Weather the Fallout
In dysfunctional settings, attendance at holiday gatherings is obligatory, not voluntary. The unspoken (or sometimes spoken) message is, “If you don’t come, you’ll pay a price.” But you’ll need to determine which price you’d rather pay—the cost of the guilt trip or the toll it will take on your sanity to be around them.
Following these tips may help your holiday gatherings be bearable or possibly even enjoyable. Happy holidays!
Dr. Alan Godwin is a private practice psychologist in Brentwood, Tennessee. He is the author of the recently released How to Solve Your People Problems: Dealing with Your Difficult Relationships. He and his wife, Penny, have been married for 31 years and have 3 children.