We’ve all experienced it. The holiday event that was ruined by one (or more) horrible person. The racist who makes offensive jokes. The Negative Nelly who makes every statement into a gloomy prediction. Or maybe the people themselves aren’t the problem: it’s just their behavior. Refusing to wear a hearing aid, picking fights with a spouse in public, choosing not to wear pants…. Not that these people don’t have worth and value, but being stuck with them during a holiday is just, well, the one thing you’re dreading the most.
Here are 5 ways to cope with that special awful person you’re going to see.
Give him/her a job
Remember that Seinfeld episode about the guy who gave everyone a job at his parties? Do that! This is easiest if you are the host for the holiday. Give the Horrible Person a job, preferably one that keeps him/her out of your way. Set the table, play with kids, monitor the weather reports, get the mail, make sure the cat/dog doesn’t play with the decorations, etc.
Ask a trusted person to help you out. Your spouse or a close relative is great for this. You two might keep a running count of the number of times a person says “Nuke-U-Lar”. You could create a private joke about the irritating behavior and use it whenever it occurs. At the end of each day (or each meal), your helper can whisper an affirmation in your ear. If your helper is super diplomatic, perhaps s/he can politely ask the Horrible Person to stop making those racist jokes or calling names or whatever.
Focus on the positive
There’s a reason this person is at your holidays. Maybe she’s a grandmother or great aunt. Maybe he’s your brother’s best friend. Maybe she would be alone if she weren’t with you. If you can find 1 positive aspect and look for that, the irritation can be greatly reduced. You’ll need to plan ahead with this one, by actually sitting down and thinking about his or her positive points. Every time your great uncle uses a racial epithet, think about how well he loves your cousins. Every time your mother-in-law sighs at something you say, remember that she raised the man you love.
Create a mantra
Building on our focus on the positive, actually create a mantra for yourself. It can be a countdown, like “Only 24 more hours, only 20 more hours, only 16 more hours,” or a simple statement, “My mother-in-law raised a good man who I love,” or even a quick action like 10 deep breaths or humming a song. Use this mantra every time you feel irritation or anger.
When all else fails, hide. Take a walk, go for a grocery or gas run, take a nap, etc. Just get away and find some time for yourself. Journal, pray, meditate, or sleep. And if there’s nowhere to go in the house and it’s too cold to walk, then go into the bathroom and turn on the fan. Nobody wants to know what’s happening in a bathroom while the fan is running! Turning on the fan will guarantee you at least 15 minutes, which is plenty of time to think through the four options above and regain your serenity.
Remember, these tips are strictly for short-term situations. For advice about turning around long term relationships with Horrible People, give me a call! Just sign up for my Breath of Fresh Air and tell me about the Horrible Person, and we can talk about different strategies like boundaries, husband training, and clear communication.