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Families and the Holidays

Dinner-Big-FamilyOne of the most stressful times for many people during the holiday season is family get-togethers.  This is true whether one is suffering from depression or not.  Families come with all sorts of members who have many different personalities and quirks. Often it is a time for seeing people you have not seen in a long time and with whom you may feel you no longer have very much in common.   Some of them you may get along with just fine – some not so well.  Some you may just have to tolerate for the sake of peace in the family.  And some know just how to push your buttons!  For example, your dad may always ask about your job in just that certain way that grates on you, grandma may only want to know if you have a boyfriend or are married yet, and Uncle Eddy thinks it is funny to make jokes at your expense.  You can choose to suffer them in silence, speak up and run the risk of defensive arguments with people who may never change, or stay at home or go elsewhere for the holiday, which is sure to upset your closest family members.  Here is another option to cope with relatives during the holiday season.

It is called Holiday Bingo, or Dysfunctional Family Bingo, and was first described by Lawrence Cohen in 2002. It is a way to recognize in advance the comments and behaviors that are potential triggers for your mood and peace of mind, who they are from, and how often they arise during the course of the holiday event.  Using it can help you protect yourself from the barbs of others.  Here is how it works.

Before your holiday dinner or family event make a list of who is going to be there who may tend to say or do something that would be bothersome to you.  Make a grid on a plain piece of paper and list the names of those relatives in the boxes along the vertical side.  Then think of all the things that these people predictably say and/or do during these gatherings that tend to make you irritated or upset.  It could be anything.  Put each comment or behavior in a box across the top of the grid. Now you are ready to begin!

Bring your grid with you to the holiday gathering but keep it secret.  When one of the persons on your list says or does something from your list to irritate you, put a check mark next to his or her name in the column for that behavior.  Simple as that!  Keep on observing and checking off irritating behaviors or comments as they arise, and make a game for yourself as the event goes on.  At the end, see how close you were to your predictions.

It is not going to change your relatives or their individual irritating behaviors.  However, it will help to change how you view the situation and that is quite valuable.  Understanding that their comments and behaviors are a predictable part of who they are, and understanding that you cannot change other people, is a useful approach to take.

Stay well!

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