Let’s Put the FUN Back in DysFUNctional!

The Holidays Are Coming!

For many people, that means increased contact with family and extended family members… a source of love and support for some, a source of stress and aggravation for others. If you’re dreading seeing family for holiday get-togethers, there’s help for you.

Avoid An Emotional Ditch

In any territory, having a map can really help you to navigate the terrain and help you avoid ending up in a ditch.  Family get-togethers are no exception…and I’m assuming you would like to avoid ending up in an emotional ditch on the holidays, am I right?

You Need A Personality Map

Here’s a simple “map of personality styles” originally developed by Karen Horney, and later expanded upon by many others, that may help with this family navigation. According to Horney, there were three basic styles of being in the world that people can use. Often people end up adopting one as an almost exclusive or rigid way of being in the world.

3 Basic Personality Styles

1.  Moving Away from Others (passive)

2.  Moving Toward Others (assertive)

3.  Moving Against Others (aggressive)

There are different strategies that you can use to more effectively navigate around people with these different styles.

Let’s Deal With Reality…

The ideal situation is that you have yourself adopted a Moving Toward Others style and all the people in your family gathering also have that style and so you can all interact in an open, honest, assertive, and respectful way with each other. Okay, now we’re going to deal with reality. Neither you, nor most of the people you will be interacting with, may have the Moving Toward Others personality orientation.  So what do you do?

To Work With A Moving Away Personality:

To successfully navigate with a person who is withdrawn and passive, ask questions and make a genuine effort to connect…about whatever that person is interested in. Try to do this without taking responsibility for the Moving Away person’s feelings (don’t feel like you have to “cheer them up” or get them involved in activities)

Don’t take on trying to solve their problems. You can also give that person their “space” without taking it personally.  Not everyone likes to socialize, or is comfortable in large gatherings, and that’s okay.

To Work With a Moving Against Personality:

To successfully navigate with someone who can be aggressive, critical, or who needs to have a lot of attention just requires that you know the territory. Put this person at ease with a compliment, be okay with “agreeing to disagree” about things, allow this person to have the “last word,” and do not engage in “hand-to-hand” verbal combat.  You will likely lose, and even if you don’t, everyone else present does.

You can stop arguments with “That’s what I love about you, Uncle Bob, you are so passionate about your politics.”  Learn how to make graceful exits… “Is that the doorbell?  I’m expecting an important phone call… please excuse me!”  Promise yourself something really nice for getting through the next ___ minutes/hours/days with this person.

If YOU Are A Moving Away Personality:

When it’s difficult for you to be social with others, family gatherings can be excruciating marathon events. Prepare yourself in advance by thinking of one thing that you can connect with each family member about so you have something to talk about with each person. Consider planning an activity, craft, or game that you enjoy that allows for a focus for the family. Give yourself permission to take space and time as you need it.  Be sure to let people know you are “okay,” you just need a little fresh air or want to take a walk.  It’s okay to honor your needs, while still being sensitive to the needs of others.

If YOU Are a Moving Against Personality:

Try to see people in as favorable a light as you can. Instead of seeing them as “against” you, perhaps you can just allow them to be who they are, flaws and all. Look for the positive intention behind comments and actions, even if they “hit you the wrong way” initially.  Count to 10, go take a walk and cool off before you become defensive and engage in a fight.

Find one nice thing to say to every person you are with. During conversations, instead of “one-upping” others, try listening and asking respectful questions to draw that person out more. Make it a goal for everyone to have an enjoyable time… whatever that means to each person!

If You Get Lost, Use Your Map!

If you find yourself frustrated, angry, upset, defensive, feeling manipulated or guilted, criticized, or judged by someone during a family gathering… don’t react! You’ve just gotten a little lost.  Get out your map!

What kind of personality are you?

What do you need to be doing differently?

What kind of personality are you dealing with?

How do you need to be approaching that person?

If all that fails, maybe you have fallen through a wormhole and are in another dimension… I don’t have the map for that one yet! But seriously,  the holidays come once a year… they are survivable, no matter what.  Just get through them… and reward yourself nicely for being your best self with your family.  🙂

DrAnita Sanz, PhD, Psychologist

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