How to Answer Those Dreaded Personal Questions at Holiday Gatherings

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The table is set, friends and family are approaching, and you already know what comments or questions are coming your way.

Perhaps the remarks are about food, your weight, your money, your relationships, your career or your children – whatever the subject, the position you find yourself in is not unusual.

For many people, the holidays aren’t necessarily the happiest time — often because we anticipate conflict or inappropriate questioning, said Connecticut-based psychologist Dr. Roseann Capanna-Hodge.

But instead of bubbling or lashing out in silence, she recommends setting boundaries, she said.

Setting boundaries can feel like the start of a fight, but it’s just a way to communicate what your needs are and what you’re okay with, said Kami Orange, a boundaries coach based in South Korea. Utah.

Boundaries are tough, though, and it takes some preparation to know how to react instead of reacting to protect your feelings, Orange added. Here’s how to start this holiday season.

The first step is to come up with a plan, said therapist Jennifer Rollin, founder of the Eating Disorder Center in Rockville, Maryland.

Before the meeting, think about your needs and what a friend or relative might say that would trigger you, she added.

“Decide upfront, these are comments that trigger me, and these are things I’ll say back,” Rollin said.

It can also be helpful to identify your goals for the evening, Capanna-Hodge said. You may not be able to help everyone get along, but you can manage to spend time with your aunt you don’t see often or play with your nephew, she added.

“You’re not going to solve 30 years of family problems on the Thanksgiving table or on the Christmas table,” Capanna-Hodge said.

But you can still limit conflict by coming up with a list of safe topics to redirect to when the conversation turns to a topic that might be difficult, Capanna-Hodge said. And a pre-holiday conversation about what you will or won’t talk about can also be helpful.

Try to be gentle, using “I” statements, like “I can’t talk about this topic when we get together because I’m uncomfortable” – this way your response sounds less accusatory, she added.

And don’t be afraid to have a little fun with it. Maybe you make a pot that people have to put money in when taboo topics are mentioned or make a bingo board with your partner or siblings that you can tick off laughing when someone says something. inappropriate,” Capanna-Hodge said.

You can download a bingo board here and fill in the blanks with the comments you expect. Or you can take a screenshot and annotate it on your phone.

Whether critical or well-meaning, comments about weight or what’s on your plate can be triggers, Rollin said.

“It’s important to reframe it for yourself and recognize that the comments people make about food and weight say a lot more about the person commenting than it does about you,” she said. “Often, people who focus on their own bodies and eating habits are the most likely to comment on others.”

You can be blunt by saying something like, “I understand you’re excited about your diet, but I’m working on healing my relationship with food, so I’d rather we not talk about it,” Rollin said.

Or you can be more playful when it comes to questions about weight loss with “I’m just grateful that my body does so much for me every day” or “I don’t know.” I don’t focus on my weight.

And if the body-shaming talk continues or you don’t feel comfortable saying something, feel empowered to excuse yourself from the conversation, Rollin said.

Along with comments about your love life — or lack thereof — Orange said she likes to give the person asking the question two chances. The first time, she suggests redirecting the conversation to something they like to talk about.

The second time around, you can use a response like “When I get the hang of it, I’ll let you know” to indirectly and gently indicate that you don’t want to continue the conversation, Orange said.

If you’re talking to someone one-on-one (don’t try that in front of a group), you can try to dampen future discussion of the topic by bringing it up directly, she said.

Orange suggests setting a boundary with something like, “I know your intention was (X) but unfortunately the impact of (Y) made me very uncomfortable, so in the future, can -you please don’t.”

For bonus points, redirect them to what they can do instead that’s helpful, Orange said.

Remarks about getting married or growing your family can really add pressure, but they often come from a place of love and excitement, Orange said.

Start by redirecting with a nice comment and a new conversation like: “I love how much you love love and want everyone to be as happy as you. Remind me, how did you meet uncle Gary?” she said.

But sometimes, even if the intention is good, the impact hits a sore spot – like someone asking someone with infertility issues to grow their family.

If you’re trying to conceive, start by talking with your partner about how open you want to be and with whom, said Rachel Gurevich, a nurse and fertility writer.

Then you can either end the conversation with a direct statement like “I really don’t want to talk about it” or a bit of humor like “Well, I’m sure you don’t want to know something so personal”, she said.

Or, if you trust those who ask, you can open up and ask for the support you need, Gurevich said.

Some people can speak diplomatically about politics, religion, and other sensitive topics, while others cannot.

But how do you stop a conversation that goes too far?

Sometimes people are looking for an argument, but that doesn’t mean you have to join in, Orange said. When possible, ignore comments or redirect by breaking the cake, Capanna-Hodge said.

If you have to address a zealous stance, you can take it head-on with something like, “We’re not on the same side and I’m sure neither of us will change our minds tonight, so why not? ” Aren’t we talking about something else? Or be brief: “I see it differently.”

What if you’ve tried all of these statements and still aren’t having fun?

“Sometimes physically removing yourself from a situation is the best boundary,” Orange said.

It doesn’t have to be a blast — you might even decide before making up an excuse that lets you leave once it stops being fun, she added.

“Holidays are about connection, and if that connection seems awful, it doesn’t have to happen,” Capanna-Hodge said.


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