That Normal Rockwell image of a happily bland family smiling around a platter of poultry may never have looked like your holiday. But this year the scene may be even further from picture perfect than ever. It's likely not going to be easy, when you're passing around yams and a relative makes an explosive comment, to hang on to your mental well-being. Psychologist and author Jeff Gardere, an assistant professor at Touro College of Osteopathic Medicine, talked with Salon about how to handle those heated holiday moments and to reassure us that "it doesn't have to be a free-for-all."
The first step, often the most difficult of all, is just taking a pause before reacting. Slow down. Wait a beat. Think before you speak, and then, Gardere advised, try to lead your response with "something that is positive, that is respectful." Then, he said, be willing to listen.
This is tough stuff, especially when, as Gardere acknowledged, you may be sharing the table with people who are "punitive, who may be prejudiced or sexist or homophobic or Islamophobic or anti-Semitic." But rather than being defensive, think of this as a chance for an "emotional intervention."
It's tremendously stressful to be in close quarters with provocative people. Taking Gardere's advice, however, can shift the narrative from an internal emotional response to an external opportunity for service. Keep your expectations in check, but show your relatives some compassion and respect, and they may leave a little more open to new ideas. If nothing else, it'll keep you much calmer, right through dessert.