Protecting our health can involve protecting our peace. Visiting relatives may become unpleasant for people who have strained relationships with family members. While Christmas is supposed to be a joy-filled time of the year, family gatherings can turn sour if conflicts are left unresolved.

Joan Samuels-Dennis, RN, Ph.D.— an award-winning Canadian speaker and authority on trauma recovery, reconciliation, and forgiveness— has helped countless people heal from their past, transform their mental health, overcome challenges, and reclaim their lives. Samuels-Dennis is the author of “490: Forgive and Live fearlessly,” “Forgive: Master The Art of Letting Go, and “Becoming the Journey to Love.” She provided insight about how family relationships can be better managed during a holiday period.

Q: Can family be a trigger for holiday stress?

A: Yes, absolutely. As the preparations for the holidays gear up, so do our expectations. Families have expectations for what the holiday gathering will look like and the roles and responsibilities of each member. These create pressure points that can be hard to manage. Dynamics that seem to take our power, choice and control will always trigger us. Families, where healthy boundaries and non-violent communication have not been established, will always trigger one another.

Q: What are some considerations to weigh when a person is not comfortable with spending time with specific family members during the holidays?

A: Consider moving through a conscious forgiveness process. Mindfully consider whether or not reconciliation is a possibility. Mindfully consider whether or not you will harm yourself by not showing up. Craft a statement that speaks to the type of holiday you deserve i.e., “I deserve a joy filled and peaceful Christmas with family and friends.” Create a visualization of the holiday you want to experience especially with the individual present and manifest it.

Q: How can people cope from the guilt of deciding to skip attending a holiday gathering or dinner?

A: If you follow the suggestion provided above, you will have no guilt or regret this Christmas, but if you choose not to attend the family gathering, guilt will only come if you choose to act in a way that goes against yourself. For example, you know that an explanation will need to be given, so give the explanation early and in a way that demonstrates sensitivity and gratitude. Don’t avoid it. As hard as it may be, be honest. Give others a chance to respond, and if they respond appropriately, be open to changing your mind. Expect nothing from those whom you inform. Allow them to react in all they need to without judgment. Allow yourself to do what you need without self-judgment. Celebrate your decision to not stress yourself out this holiday season.

  Q: What is a big factor in mending broken family relationships?

A: Forgiveness. Forgiveness. Forgiveness. I developed a psycho-therapeutic method called The Forgiveness Method and have helped hundreds of people overcome their traumatic responses. Without a doubt, the only things that help us to mend a broken relationship is forgiveness of the person who wronged us, self-forgiveness, and a willingness to reconcile. Forgiveness is not meant to be an emotional process, rather it is intended to be a consciousness-raising process. Put another way, forgiveness helps us to become aware of who we are, how we love and want to be loved, what we fear and the events that inspired that fear.

The other big factor that influences the mending of broken relationships is the beliefs that we hold about ourselves. Oftentimes we think others are criticizing us, but it is we who are criticizing ourselves.  Once we correct our false beliefs and step into a place of acceptance of self, we often find that the opinions and actions of the family are received in a whole new way.

Q: Can spending the holidays alone be a healthier option if a person feels stress from revisiting strained relationships in person?

A: Yes, absolutely, especially if our family is toxic and violent. But especially if your fears are more associated with words, tones, and perceived judgment, it is best to do some self-development work and plan to connect with the people who want you to come home.

Learn more about Samuels-Dennis and her journal called “Forgive: Master the Art of Letting Go” via

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