Keep Your Cool During Holiday Gatherings

3 min read

By Alia Hoyt

Some people just know how to push our buttons, and actually seem to enjoy it. If you are laid back, don't like confrontation or are just sensitive (like I am), dreading the snarky comments that are sure to come from your frenemy/crazy uncle/estranged stepmother can cause serious stress -- and threaten to ruin your perfectly lovely holiday gathering.

“Taking the bait [means] to allow someone to lower your level of integrity by letting them bait you into behavior that is beneath you,” says psychotherapist and upwave reviewer Terri Cole, LCSW. “This person who is baiting you is communicating with you... but they’re not saying what they actually mean.” For example, instead of telling you straight up that they’re mad at you for some reason, the baiter may criticize or mock everything from your cooking to your child-rearing abilities. (Of course, some baiters will articulate the problem -- but a festive occasion is hardly the time or place for a major family inquest. Awkward!)

What it comes down to is simple: You can’t control how other people act, but you can manage your reaction by taking a few simple steps.

In this scenario, the culprit is usually someone you can see coming from a mile away. Be ready for them! “You are the architect of all of your experiences -- including your holiday experience,” says Cole. “So decide up front that it’s going to be loving and amazing. Be unprovokable and unoffendable.” Make a conscious decision that, no matter what anyone says, you will have an amazing day. Not convinced? Research repeatedly reaffirms the idea that people who think positively reap emotional and health benefits for the long-term

There are a couple of ways to remove yourself from the situation. “There are things you can do that are logistical,” says happiness expert andupwave reviewer Bobbi Emel, MFT. “Be in another room, come late or leave early.” Emel also suggests deflecting the topic. “Move on to something else and try not to let those buttons be pushed,” she says.

I know, I know: When someone really sticks it to you, the last thing you want is to let it go. No matter how much you want to have the last word, though, there are valid reasons to avoid the temptation. "For one thing, it gives the baiter what they want," says Emel. "It encourages their behavior. They’re playing this game and it continues the game, rather than ending it." It can also have lasting negative effects on you, causing you embarrassment, frustration or just making you feel like you’ve been had. So try taking the high road and see where it leads you.

At the end of the day, few people are proud of having the perfect cutting comeback or dissolving in tears and fleeing the room. "Why are you giving [this person] the power to lower your level of integrity?" asks Cole. "Practice forgiveness and let it roll off your back. Be joyful and loving." After all, happiness is the best revenge.