How to Survive Holiday Gatherings and Disarm the Debbie Downers

Holiday gatherings rarely run as smoothly as we’d like them to, and for most of us, those Norman Rockwell paintings of Thanksgiving and Christmas are pretty but unrealistic.

For those of us from families built on Debbie Downer DNA, there's only one direction a mood can go during holiday get-togethers and that’s down.

When coming from comedians like Rachel Dratch In the Debbie Downer comedy sketches on Saturday Night Live, the running negative commentary, bubble-bursting barbs and rampant self-pity are funny. But spend a few hours during the holidays with one or two (or more) real Debbie Downers and you'll understand the meaning of the word "miserable."

There are tricks you can use to keep the table talk from getting lethal, says Paula Renaye, a professional life coach and author of The Hardline Self Help Handbook.

"You can take control simply by thinking about what you choose to say – or not say," Renaye says. "If you hear yourself criticizing, judging or complaining, you're part of the problem. Happy, self-respecting people don't find it necessary to dump on others to make themselves feel good.

"If someone else is the problem, simply don't give them the ammunition they need," she continues. Instead, she suggests these tactics:

Do not say anything negative. And no "one-downing." One-downing is the opposite of one-upping. It's the art of coming up with something worse when someone else talks about his or her problem. No matter what negative thing someone says, or how much you agree with it or not, resist the urge to respond with a negative.

Instead, dodge, distract and detour. Turn things around with a positive question. If you need to, make a "happy list" of questions before you go, so you'll have some at the ready. And remember, there's no law that says you have to answer a question just because someone asked it.

With negative people, it's best if you do not talk about yourself. The only reason negative people care about what you’re up to is because they want something to ridicule, brag or gossip about to make themselves look or feel good. Don't go there. Whether you just filed bankruptcy or won a Nobel Prize, keep it to yourself. No good can come of it.

Do not share your woes. Even if you're in a tough place and could really use a shoulder to cry on, don't start laying your woes on a Negative Nell. Even in a weak moment, when you've had a terrible day, talking about it with a negative person is a bad idea. You might get a microsecond of sympathy, but that's only so they can launch into telling you how much worse they have it.

Do your homework and become like Teflon. Think of the times people said things that made you feel bad or made you feel the need to defend or explain yourself. If you want to avoid going down that path again, start hacking away at the jungle of your own emotions. Get over needing anyone's approval or blessing. If you are waiting for negative relatives to validate you, you're in for a long wait, says Renaye. Don't set yourself up to be miserable. Get over it and go prepared.

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