We might think family gatherings are just fun and games, but they are not always like that. The family occasion can amplify unresolved problems between family members, even if some try hard not to bring them up.
Also, expectations can create anxiety. The idea that all of the guests will feel joyful and in a great mood for a specific day in the year is so unrealistic.
I also know that when we see our families back home as an immigrant, the excitement and expectations are higher than usual, which can amplify some issues.
So what to do, besides therapy?
Here are some ideas if you are the host:
Set the tone and talk to each family member before the gathering to chat and let them know what the intention is, and if there is a plan of action, mention that too.
Let them know what things you don't want to compromise on, such as everyone needs to be on time and respect the traditions or rituals; whatever they are, they need to be clearly stated.
If there were previous issues between family members and things are tense, please let those know that it would be great if they could try not to generate conflict during the family gathering. Explain to them how rows make you feel rather than ask them to avoid doing it.
Some might not like all the rules, but you are the host, and they can decide if they come and respect it or if they don't come.
Pay attention to those who are quieter and might be overwhelmed and let them know that it is ok if they want to leave early or take a walk to recharge, or read their book in a different room.
Pay attention to those who can easily take centre stage and dominate the discussion. If it's too much, change the subject, and give them a task if they don't get the hint. Don't embarrass them but remember you are the host and can lead the conversation or activity as you feel fit.
If you sense everyone is a bit off or nervous, you, as a host, can address it in your way. I usually say it and mention it. Immediately the pressure is less. I delegate jobs in the kitchen, so tension is released through physical activity. Introduce a game that is easy for everyone. A shot of strong alcohol helps sometimes.
Here is what you could do as a guest:
Please let the host know if you are under the weather, shy, overwhelmed, or have issues regarding the gathering. You can do it privately and ask for what would help you in the situation.
If point 1 is too much, tell it to a friend at the family gathering so they can support you.
And if you don't have anyone that you can open up about it, have someone on the call that you can text about it. Or even have a short call if it's needed.
If you like to help and do things, offer it to the host, and they will not refuse if they know it will make you feel less stressed.
If someone triggers you at the family gathering, be aware of it, have tools to apply once it gets too much, or don't go if you think this is damaging to you and the gathering. It's a tough decision, but it's needed in some situations; just let the host know, preferably not last minute.
Remember that this shall pass, too, and there is no need to make it bigger than it is.
Don't expect too much from yourself or others.
Make time for yourself if things are intense. A short walk always helps.
If you must tell someone off, please do it away from the gathering or later.
Even if you do all of this, there are no guarantees; that's why I recommend some form of therapy dealing with family relationships. Family gatherings might still be intense, but at least you will be less triggered by them and more in peace with yourself. In my experience, once I did Family Constellations, I understood why my family including me react as they do and have become more compassionate towards us all. And sometimes, I take family gatherings as pure therapy sessions where I practice patience and awareness, not letting other people's mood influence mine, and enjoying to the max even if it is not perfect.
Please let me know what other things you would add to the list and what kind of therapy you did to help you with your family relationships.
From my heart, Nora