For those of you who bravely continue family relationships with people who are hard to be around–I salute you! In episode 154 of my podcast I talked at length about my experience moving across the country and letting that be the reason I didn’t stay intermingled in my family’s dynamics. That episode is a pep talk for anyone not going home for the holidays who needs a pep talk for disappointing people with your choices!

My intention with this piece is to teach anyone who is trepidatious about going to a gathering some of my favorite tools for hard conversations and difficult people. I’ve been working on healing from social anxiety intentionally for nearly five years and I’ve learned a lot about how to release defensiveness and needing to be “right” which helps a lot with harmonizing conversations.

Hi! I’m Bevin! I want to be a good influence on you!

If you go to the holidays with folks you feel like you can fully be yourself around, be accepted, loved, cheered on and cheered up and leave with your belly and emotional cup full–you have found real family and I hope you cherish that!

This is how I want all of my friends & family to feel around me. I know I cannot control how other people experience me, but I can work on my compassion and connection skills to be experienced as more loving.

In my recovery in Al-Anon learned a lot about how much choice I have and I use those choices. I was raised to believe I should care 100% about what other people think about me and 0% about what I think of me. I was raised to contort myself to excel in education and pay for the privilege, get into debilitating debt, have a job and make money and do whatever I needed to make me palatable enough to stay safe.

That’s a recipe for misery and mental illness, addiction and shame. The road to happiness is paved with disappointing people and you’re going to need to disappoint thousands of people along your journey.

If your choice is to attend the gathering you’re nervous about for whatever reason, I encourage you to bring choices along with you.

Choices are freedom–use your freedom! Part of getting socialized in religion, fundamentalism, alcoholic family dynamics, colonialism etc is having folks limit your choices. Beware of anyone who demands unquestioning obedience!

Also learn more about coercive control and manipulation. We have no idea that we have a cop in our heads until we finally learn what that means and how it affects our loving and fun experience of the world. EVICT THE COP IN YOUR BRAIN!

It can feel so hard to make a choice that’s different from other people in the group or room, but usually there’s at least one other person in the room who wants that freedom, too. Model it for them. All of our dreams and desires are on the other end of our comfort zone and sometimes the dream can be simple–I gotta get away from cousin John’s fascist rant.

There are people in this world who thrive on nonsense! You do not have to engage with their nonsense!

And! I believe everyone is worthy of love no matter what–even cousin John. But those people do not get as much access to my time or energy.

Pretty incredible how many folks cannot get through the holidays with their families without being drunk. I stopped drinking 11 years ago cuz I didn’t want to go the road of my alcoholic relatives.

When things get rough for you and you need to shift your energy, here are some possibilities:

1. Take a walk with whoever else wants to go! Our bodies need two hours of movement outside every day. Evolutionarily true! Some of my favorite memories with my cousins at family gatherings over the years are on walks we took after or before a meal. Good conversation and connection.

Sometimes I call consuming cannabis before a meal “getting hungry” and if you have fellow family members who might wanna go outside to get hungry, that’s another great way to connect and shift the energy.

Cannabis can sometimes make your abusive or annoying family more funny, or make our compassion more available. (I argue some terpenes are better than others–pack your high vibe favs for the family event.)

Cannabis can sometimes ease my social anxiety or amplify it. I no longer consume cannabis around people I don’t trust yet. I am brutally honest sometimes when I’m stoned and I like to make sure the folks around me are trustworthy enough to handle my honesty.

2. Take a walk alone! Or take the dog out! Just get outside and let nature align you. I suggest shaking out your body for 30 seconds to relieve and reset your nervous system.

Abraham Hicks teaches this as segment intending. Every time someone walks into a room, or leaves a room, or you change your location all of that is an opportunity to set an intention for a fresh vibe.

3. Intention setting is magic and even taking two seconds to make an intention “I intend this conversation to be harmonious.” “I intend for this interaction to be hilarious.”

My alcoholic family dynamic is frequently really fun and funny. Levity is something that can break tension well, just remember to not punch down. Punching down creates separation.

4. Listen to a pep talk. This one from Abraham Hicks really spoke to me about dealing with difficult people.

5. Be a thermostat not a thermometer. Everywhere you go always bring the weather with you! Set yourself up for success! Don’t roll into a hard gathering on empty! Fill your cup ahead of time!

I would for sure have hit all of the marks of my solid morning routine, I would have already walked in the woods, I would have listened to something supportive before I attend the hard holiday gathering!

Preparation causes separation. Get to know yourself well enough to know what fills your cup. Most folks are out here letting the negative world tear them down and people who corrode their confidence be one of their top five influences. In my opinion that’s a gross and optional lifestyle!

6. Work on some art or play a game! Art is a doorway to other dimensions and consciousness. When I’m around stressful people if I have some coloring to focus on, a puzzle (gosh I love a puzzle) or something to do with my hands and brain like playing cards it can be so much easier to focus on the NOW moment instead of stressing about potential bombs coming from whatever cousin John might say after his third whiskey.

7. Have boundaries around what substances are consumed around you. Also I want to mention how different wine drunk, beer drunk and whiskey drunk are.

If you were raised around alcoholism or other abusive environments, our nervous system is really aware of the type of alcohol or drugs being consumed because it could literally mean the difference in your physical safety. I have sometimes immediately peaced out of a gathering when I saw some kind of substance that is a warning sign to me.

After years of being a nightlife producer and spending the same money for the first hour of the party no one attends cuz people roll in late to be cool or not socially awkward, as the later hours of the party with tons of people there, I have embraced how wonderful it is to show up right on time. And when you show up right on time you have the most sobriety to experience and can be ready to leave when things get dicey.

8. Actually having hard conversations. Consider that people are excited to talk to you about [insert polarizing topic of the moment!] because you are the most radical person they know. This is why it is always so important to speak your truth and speak truth to pseudo power even when it feels we are shouting into the void–we are always the most radical person someone knows and they need to be exposed to new ideas.

This year’s hot button issue is clearly the US funded war against Palestine and here’s a great hard conversation guide from Jewish Voice for Peace! (It’s got great tips for any kind of hard conversation!)

There’s a boycott against McDonald’s, Starbucks and Disney! Please consider deleting those apps and not supporting those companies during this time!

I am a former attorney and I DO NOT like to argue for sport. Truly, miss me with debates for fun. (Some people think fighting or debating is a love language and that is not for me!)

When you listen to my podcasts you’ll hear how I manage disagreement, which is to harmonize, agree to disagree or simply move on.

Mostly, though, I’m able to find something we agree on. The most confident person in the conversation usually leads the conversation and I can become the leader if I need to in order to harmonize.

I have been intentionally working on my self confidence for more than two decades. Most folks hang out with people and consume media that erodes their confidence.

I also have been reducing my hubris and increasing my humility intentionally for more than a decade. Hubris creates barriers to intimacy and I’m here to perfect my loving of other people. Even if I don’t like them. Most people get super into their ego because they are afraid to be perceived as anything but perfect. Relatable, but toxic.

Getting curious with compassion is a great method for being a loving human and especially difficult or mean people. Sometimes when people are being mean, asking compassionate curious questions calls them out enough to get them to stop. Also when folks get triggered and loud they are usually acting the age of their early childhood trauma and that is a fascinating thing to notice. I have always restrained from asking “Who hurt you when you were five because that’s how old you’re acting?” but one day I’ll bust that one out.

Your attitude matters! Psychologist William James says “Whenever you’re in conflict with someone there’s one factor that makes the difference between damaging the relationship and deepening it. The factor is attitude! If your attitude is positive and you are willing to give them the benefit of the doubt, then your mindset is to help the person you give yourself the best odds for a positive resolution.”

Harmony is created with two or more voices singing at a frequency that is different but complimentary. When cousin John is rolling in with his mean frequency I will harmonize higher and higher.

But depending on how much cousin John has had to drink and how loud he gets, I might bail! At a certain point I find harmonizing not worth my time. I also don’t answer the phone from my alcoholic relatives after 4PM.

People are afraid of hard conversations because they are afraid of how they are going to feel and being disliked. You’re going to need to get clear about whose opinion matters to you. I do not give a flip about what cousin John thinks about me.

People long to be listened to. And sometimes listening is an act of love. One of my favorite communication teachers tells a story about meeting a dentist and asking questions and finding out he raises rabbits. And boy howdy is he passionate about those rabbits! Find people’s rabbits! Whatever they are passionate about, lights them up! You can change a conversation from the hard thing to the rabbits and let them run.

Unfortunately some people are passionate about being contrary haters! They listen to so much Fox News they think it’s socially acceptable to say racist, homophobic, sexist, classist, etc things.

I might try to find their rabbits around the other shitty things they say, but more likely for me I will limit my time with them. Go to another room (I stay hydrated so I use the restroom a lot), loudly talk over them (if they are being rude with what they say, I will occasionally overtalk them–I never said my methods were entirely without malice), or leave! Sorry cousin John if you can’t get it together to be kind to your relatives you’re probably not gonna get to keep hanging out with your relatives.

9. Shitty people game. If you can’t avoid cousin John, you might make a game out of catching the shitty things he says and have bingo cards or points.

I went to holidays with a sweetheart whose verbally abusive mom was prone to saying shitty things to everyone and there was a scorecard going among the siblings and their plus ones.

I maintain that my presence (and your presence! unless you’re mean) is a gift! And isn’t anything anyone is entitled to for any specific period of time.

10. Don’t play their victim. Sometimes they try to convince you that you’re fighting with them. They might lie about you raising your voice or call you abusive or use lots of twisty ways of trying to manipulate.

Usually in this circumstance you’re dealing with someone who perceives themselves as a victim. People who perceive themselves as a victim need another person in order to be a victim and they have all kinds of unconscious dumb games to play.

You don’t have to entertain that. Some options: “I love you, I am here for you, but I cannot engage with you when [insert boundary] let me know when you’re ready to engage in a calm way.” They’ll get bored with you and go find someone else to make them a victim.

“I hear that you’re not ready to hear the information I have to share. I’ll wait til you’re ready to connect.” And then leave the convo or the gathering.

“I don’t feel like you love me.” “Well, then what makes you feel loved?” Get curious but don’t get on a guilt train with someone. No one can make me feel guilty, I can do that all on my own with my own moral integrity and compass. I work hard to keep my side of the street clean but I’m not hurt by someone else’s expectations I didn’t consent to.

Your peace is so expensive!! Be willing to be awkward in order to preserve your peace! I love you! Take breaks, go outside, shake your body out and make sure to fill up more of your time with people who make you feel loved, worthy and wonderful.

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