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Life According To Lenson

Surviving The Dark Side Of Thanksgiving
Posted by Eileen Lenson on Nov 13, 2012 - 7:53:18 AM

UNITED STATES—You're not alone if you're concerned about the craziness that may characterize your Thanksgiving dinner. For many, the reality of Thanksgiving is stressful; often far from the idyllic family meals portrayed by media.


According to some, the dark side of Thanksgiving is alive and well. A mother-in-law serves a peanut butter pie, knowing ingesting peanuts could cause her daughter-in-law to go into anaphylactic shock. An aunt gets drunk and tells in detail, to anyone she can corner, the torrid details of her most recent divorce. A brother holds a family Thanksgiving hostage by arriving two hours late and further sabotages the dinner by forgetting to bring the dessert as promised.


These situations, which include manipulative, controlling, critical and dismissive behavior by the difficult people who are with us, cause us stress at the very time we anticipate being happy and contented.

You have the power to make dreaded past Thanksgiving dynamics different this year!


It isn't the situation that causes us stress, but how we deal with it. For instance, the difficult family members will always be at your Thanksgiving dinner table, but they can only negatively affect you if you allow them to 'push your buttons.’


Most people behave as they do in an attempt to get their needs met. Sometimes they accomplish this by using undesirable behaviors that, unknown to them, cause your teeth to clench and blood to boil. However, it is human nature to move towards that which feels good. So this year, instead of reacting to the negative characteristics of annoying guests, focus on their positive behaviors. Rewarding the positive behaviors and ignoring the negative may influence them to modify the undesired behaviors.


Think about how you have related to difficult Thanksgiving guests in the past. If it was with defensiveness, consider changing tactics and engaging with empathy. Convey acceptance instead of resistance. Listen for a positive morsel to which you can respond with positive feedback. Feeling that they are accepted by you will result in their feeling more validated and ready to listen to your views.


Last, use empathy to find tolerance of the people who annoy you. Ask yourself why the others have to resort to negative behavior to get their needs met? Ask yourself what other people are afraid of? Perhaps the mother-in-law is afraid of abandonment from her only son. Or maybe she feels she doesn't measure up to her daughter-in-law's expectations. Your body language, as well as gestures and actions, can favorably impact on this behavior. Smiles, offers of help, responding in a quiet, non-defensive and unemotional manner, being open to discussion and tolerating differences all convey acceptance of other people. Feeling accepted, they may modify their troublesome behavior.


Thanksgiving dinner will be what it is meant to be. A room full of family, friends, neighbors, and in some cases, strangers, who come together in hopes of enjoying a hearty meal whilst creating cherished experiences. Changing your view of the others, realizing that no one is perfect, and that the difficult person's behavior is not about you, means that you do not have to personalize their idiosyncrasies. By detaching yourself from their behavior, you no longer need to react as you have in the past.


Before you settle into this year's Thanksgiving feast, take pause, and scrutinize yourself. Is it possible that you are, or have been, someone else's dreaded and annoying Thanksgiving dinner guest? If so, reflect on what you are attempting to achieve, and how you can accomplish it in a more productive manner. You have the power to make the personal changes that can result in this Thanksgiving dinner being a wonderful experience and success for everyone.


Eileen Lenson, MSW, ACSW, Board Certified Coach, is a life and business coach in private practice. Previously, she was a licensed clinical social worker for 20 years. During that period of time she authored a business book on psychotherapy, taught ethics, and worked with individual, couples, families and groups. For further information, write to her at, or visit her website at



Cliffside Malibu




Serving Bel Air, Benedict Canyon, Beverly Hills. Brentwood, Laurel Canyon, Los Feliz, Malibu, Pacific Palisades, Melrose, Santa Monica, Sherman Oaks, Studio City, Topanga, Canyon, Westwood & Hollywood Hills.