Christmas

Survival Tips for the Holidays

by Courtney Hollingsworth, LPC

Here are a few small tips for changing the ways you engage with your relatives around the holidays. It isn’t easy to change the ways we relate to people we’ve known most or all of our lives, but it is often worth the work. This list is by no means conclusive, but a good place to start.

Take people at their word.

Try to notice how often you are attempting to read between the lines of others’ words or times when you feel expected to know what someone else feels or wants without them actually saying anything. Reading between the lines or finding the hidden meeting is common in family systems that operate more passive aggressively. Taking people at their word forces others to speak up on their own behalf, say what they really mean, and address one another with respect.

Mean your words.

The reverse of taking people at their words is true as well. If you are frequently not saying what you truly mean, then feel upset when others are not doing as you want, odds are you were not meaning your words. Speak directly and kindly, and you can avoid many of the passive-aggressive communication games that conflict avoidant families tend to get bogged down in.

Check your expectations.

Holidays are filled with expectations and typically time with family is also, therefore holidays with family members can be a double whammy. It can become the perfect traffic jam of various expectations.

Know your limits.

Try to realistically assess your limits on various planes prior to making your holiday plans. Are there certain family members you have a lower tolerance for spending time around? Is your social/extroversion threshold depleted more quickly at family gatherings? Are there certain relatives’ houses where you become a worse version of yourself longer you stay? Does being around babies and toddlers bring out the worst in you? Is your alcohol tolerance lowered in family settings? Assessing your limits prior to making your plans can help you make a more informed choice, and perhaps plan action steps toward self-care when you can’t predict that your limits will be tested and or pushed.

Know your triggers.

This one is similar to knowing your limits, in that it can be helpful to do some self-assessment prior to walking into family dynamics that are laden with emotional landmines. Try to think about instances in the past when time spent with family has led to blow-ups, arguments, hurt feelings, or even the silent (or shouted) conclusion that you’ll never go back again. Try to see if there’s a pattern between these various situations. Do you tend to be triggered by your mom’s passive aggressive comments? Do you tend to be triggered by your brother’s constant bragging about his successful career? Do you tend to be triggered by your niece talking all of the toys leaving them for the other cousins? Whatever your triggers, knowing them in advance can help prevent them from being a surprise, or even activated at all.

Make a private game of unavoidable unpleasantries.

Now, this is a little bit nuanced because it needs to be done discreetly and with wisdom, but can be helpful in surviving unavoidable unpleasantries. However, if you and your spouse or sibling share a negative feeling towards a person or behavior, you can make a private game out of how often you have to witness or endure that behavior. For example: does your dad tend to condescendingly correct other peoples grammar? Making bets on how often that will happen during the time that you spend with him. Does your aunt make snide comments under her breath? Rather than fume as you, it can be a survival strategy to find a way to laugh about it. What makes this game nuanced is you certainly don’t want others to find out about it or extend it to the point of being disrespectful.

The Christmas Carol of My Heart: Darkness to Dawn

By: Courtney Hollingsworth, PLPC

I don’t know about you, but this season often feels like the least peaceful time of the year. Amid the swirl of the busyness the holidays bring, peace feels as far off as the little town of Bethlehem itself. Darkness crowds out the daylight hours on both ends of the day. To do lists expand exponentially; schedules overflow. And for many of us, the holiday season also brings with it turmoil amongst the emotional complexities of spending time with family, or without loved ones.

While beautiful, the twinkling of Christmas lights can seem more akin to the dim glow of hope for peace in this often dark life, too faint to adequately guide our path. Rather than out of adoration, we fall on our knees under the weight of all the sins and sorrows that grow, we know that there is no guarantee that next year all our troubles will be out of sight. We hear the bells on Christmas day, their old familiar carols playing, words repeating: “Peace on earth, good will to men.” In despair, we bow our heads and say, “There is no peace on earth or in me.”

But then dawn breaks on our darkness. In the dark corners of our lives and hearts, shines the Everlasting Light. Jesus, Lord, at his birth. He disperses the gloomy clouds of night and puts death’s dark shadows to flight. The dark night of our soul is transformed with the dawn of redeeming grace. All our hopes and fears are met in him tonight. Every hope we have harbored is met in Christ. Every fear that has plagued us is met in Christ. What could exist in our hearts outside of these two categories?

The gift of Christmas is Hope. God imparts to human hearts the blessing of his heaven. With the birth of Jesus, Emmanuel (which means God with us), a gap is closed, an intimate God establishes relationship with his people, the Hope of redemption comes to earth, the Grace that changes everything. He comes to make His blessings flow. Let our hearts prepare him room. Let us receive our King. He born in our hearts today; he abides with us. Darkness is cast out in the blinding light of hope.

Let nothing you dismay take the peace and rest in your soul this Christmas season. As you struggle with the darkness, remember, Christ, our Savior, was born on Christmas day to save us all from Satan’s power when we had gone astray. Christ is the Hope of all hopes.


“Long lay the world in sin and error pining,
‘Til He appear’d and the soul felt its worth.
A thrill of hope the weary world rejoices,
For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn.”


Tidings of comfort and joy; the Light of the World has come!




(I sprinkled this post with Christmas Carol lyrics. Can you find them and name the songs from which they come?)