Holiday Relationships

Holiday Relationships

This time of year is full of social gatherings – family meals, holiday parties, work parties, New Year’s parties, etc. It can be a very challenging time of year for people for various reasons, including anxieties surrounding social engagements. People find themselves “forced” to interact with coworkers, family members, friends, and strangers in a myriad of potentially uncomfortable social situations. I often hear people in therapy (and outside of therapy) discuss their dread at having to attend certain gatherings and engage with people who they find to be condescending, inappropriate, awkward, overwhelming, or in some other way negative to be around.

It would be impossible to address (much less help change) in this article all the many reasons why people feel negative emotions regarding social engagements this time of year. However, I hope to bring your attention to the main area you can control within all the potential holiday chaos, which is your internal relationship with someone or something. I spoke in a prior blog post about self-fulfilling prophecies and how our internal narrative about someone else can actually create and maintain a negative relationship with them without us realizing it. Now, as an aside, I recognize that there are individuals in many people’s lives that have caused considerable pain and distress and it can be very hard to be around them and not feel a myriad of negative emotions. What I am advocating though, is an assessment of how you talk to yourself about a situation (e.g., family meal, work party) or a relationship (e.g., “Aunt Jane is such a mean person, she never has anything nice to say.”). Even something as simple as “I really don’t want to go to this party, it is going to be so boring, awkward, etc…” can create such a negative internal relationship with that event that it becomes hard for it to play out otherwise.

If you are going to be attending an event/party, why not spend some energy shifting your narrative and self-talk about it? Each situation or interaction provides an opportunity to overcome a fear, connect to a new person, improve a relationship, or learn something new. Even seemingly mundane thoughts such as “I am so awkward” or “Tom is so weird” can be unhelpful labels that only serve to reinforce negative interactional patterns. You certainly don’t have to spend 20 minutes talking with that cousin who demeans your interests and boasts about their accomplishments, but you also don’t have to spend 24 hours before a holiday family gathering creating and reinforcing anxieties about what could happen, who might say something negative, or whether you might say the “wrong thing” in a conversation. We all have completely subjective, unique relationships with ourselves and others that are worth evaluating and shifting, especially if they create distress and negativity within us. Let other peoples’ emotions and dysfunctions be their own, and you focus on loving/accepting yourself and maintaining an internal peacefulness and stillness regardless of external circumstances. Easier said than done, I know, and it is a process that must be practiced, but at least you are not reliant on others to change in order to feel comfortable, positive, or happy. Uncle John and Aunt Jane might still have an overly impassioned political discussion at dinner, but you will be less prone to being emotionally hijacked by it.

Average Is Not An Enemy

Average Is Not An Enemy

In our work as counselors and psychologists, we support clients in their effort to identify relative personal strengths and weaknesses. The resulting self-awareness is a building block towards setting goals for what clients hope to gain from their treatment. When it comes to intellect and ability, accepting one’s place on the bell-shaped curve can be difficult. We live in an individualistic society that uses weighted scales to elevate GPA and gives out blue ribbons for finishing.

As a practice, we encourage our clinical and performance clients to set goals and consider how they might grow beyond their current capabilities. At the same time, our psychoeducational assessments, in general, reflect what decades of research prove: most people fall within the average range for intellect and ability.

Unfortunately, psychoeducation is lacking in academic institutions and society at large about what it means to be average.

In Liz Bohannon’s book, Beginner’s Pluck, she encourages readers to own their average. “Owning your average is actually a remarkably freeing and powerful acknowledgment because being born inherently gifted or above average isn’t a prerequisite to living an extraordinary life” (Bohannon, 2019).

In accepting one’s average range of ability, Bohannon is not encouraging living a life of complacency. Instead, when we free ourselves from the internal dialogue that shames average intellect and ability, we open ourselves up to a better opportunity. The opportunity for a positive redirection of energy. A redirection that allows us to invest more effort towards self-improvement, learning, goal setting, and maximizing our potential.

I think it can be easy to assume all successful or highly influential people are “gifted” or “special.” However, many people with impressive accomplishments to their name fall within the average range of intellect.

Personal growth has no prerequisite for unique intellect or ability. No matter where you fall on the bell-shaped curve, your life can be infused with impact, meaning, contentment, and purpose. Average is not an enemy.



As we move into summer and decompress from the busyness and chaos of the school year, new challenges begin to arise. Instead of worrying about school schedules and deadlines, we now may worry about planning activities, vacations, and making this the “best summer ever!”  As we get caught up in the whirlwind that is summer, it can be easy to fall into the trap of comparison and constantly seeking more… more experiences, a better vacation planned, trying to keep up with neighbors and friends.

This comparison can affect everyone in the family, from kids and teens comparing their activities to those of their peers to adults trying to keep up with the Joneses regarding vacations and family time, all to pursue happiness and relaxation. However, this constant desire for more or to “one up” can actually have the opposite effect. Instead of seeking more and better, we need to shift our perspective and focus and work towards displaying gratitude for what we have and practicing being content in our current situations.

Research has linked a number of positive effects to regularly practicing gratitude including stronger relationships, better physical health, reduction in depressive symptoms and stress, improved sleep, increased resilience, and improved self-esteem.  So how can you practice gratitude and boost your overall well-being? Research has also shown that grateful people have a number of factors in common including: recognizing and feeling a sense of abundance in their lives, appreciating the help of others, recognizing and finding joy from the little things, and acknowledging the importance of expressing gratitude.  Below are three practical ways to practice gratitude in your daily life:

Be specific and creative. Each day try to notice five things you are grateful for. Whether you record these in a gratitude journal, use an app such as 365 Gratitude or Grateful, or have a daily family conversation, make it a point to count your big and small blessings. Be specific in your gratitude- don’t just say “I’m thankful for my family”- but instead “I’m grateful that my mother knew I was stressed out so she offered to pick up the kids from camp.” Make it a point to find new things to be grateful for each and every day, even things that initially do not seem positive (e.g. “While I don’t want to go grocery shopping, I’m thankful that I can provide for my family.”)

Give to others. Instead of focusing on what you lack or where you feel as if you do not measure up, focus on what you can do to help others. When we focus on others, it puts our own problems into perspective and allows us to reflect on things that we may otherwise take for granted. It can help us remember how fortunate we are and allow us to see beyond ourselves and our own struggles and frustrations.

Stop comparing and surround yourself with positivity. Shift your focus from what everyone else has to what you have. When we focus on what we lack, we not only experience negative feelings (frustration, shame) but we also miss out on opportunities for growth. Instead, focus on the positives in your life. Similarly, when we surround ourselves with negativity or people who are set on comparison, it does not allow us to experience peace and joy in the current moment. Choose to focus on the things that bring you joy and surround yourself by people who bring happiness.

“Gratitude is the healthiest of all human emotions. The more you express gratitude for what you have, the more likely you will have even more to express gratitude for.” – Zig Ziglar