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From laziness and nitpicking all the way to anger and alcoholism, family Christmas can be a fraught time, writes psychotherapist Lucy Beresford

Family get-togethers at Christmas can trigger old relationship patterns.

But if you are anxious to avoid drama over the festive season, remember that it is better to be selfish to protect your mental health and wellbeing by not ignoring certain red flags.

Here’s just a few of the family pitfalls that are likely to crop up over Christmas – and how to swerve them.

If there is sibling rivalry , make a conscious effort not to rise to the bait. Some families enjoy sliding back into old dynamics, so that one person is always thought of as ‘the baby’ of the family, or ‘the black sheep’ or ‘the golden child’. It makes everyone else feel safe, to play the same roles as in years gone by. Instead of sliding back with everyone else, stay true to the person you have become today. And if someone tries to speak to you in your old role, remind them that you have changed and are a different person now.

If you have an alcoholic in the family, and in particular if this changes their personality the more they drink, stop making excuses for their behaviour. Refuse to serve them alcohol, and avoid giving gifts of alcohol to anyone on the day. And if their behaviour becomes upsetting, walk out of the room or take yourself out of the house.

If you have a lazy family member, avoid the temptation to pick up any slack in order for things to get done. If they have failed to do their task, leave the task unfulfilled. This will expose their lazy (and selfish) behaviour. And if by being lazy they are often late for arrangements, start without them. They will soon being to appreciate the impact of their own behaviour.

If you have someone in the family who is angry or who is always picking a fight, greet that person with a kind and warm heart. Ramp up your pleasantness and wear your biggest smile. Your refusal to rise to their need to get into disagreements will disarm them.

A variation on this is the relative who thinks it a great idea to start big debates about possibly difficult topics, like politics. Let family members know in advance that there are certain topics you’re a bit bored of, and say that if the topic comes up, you’d prefer not to take part. This way you set your boundary so that no-one can accuse you in the moment of walking away in a huff.

If one of your relations is critical or always looking on the negative side, and seeks to pull everyone down, remind them to let go of perfectionism. Some people have a ‘yes but…’ attitude, so that if you say ‘isn’t the Christmas tree pretty?’ they will say ‘yes, but I wish it was a real one’. To avoid being pulled down by their negativity, remind yourself that they need to be miserable, but that you have a choice about joining in the misery.

Above all, if there are certain individuals who have hurt you in the past, for the sake of your mental wellbeing, give yourself permission to set the ultimate boundary and not attend.