Though the holiday season provides ample time to bond with friends, family and loved ones, it can also cause social anxiety. If your next-of-kin are notorious for asking personal — and sometimes uncomfortable — intrusive questions about your personal life, you may feel nervous about your seasonal reunion. Whether they inquire about your dating life, your career or your health, it is important to remember you are never under any obligation to answer anything you do not want to. As Los Angeles-based psychologist Yvonne Thomas, Ph.D. explains, you have the right to decide how much — or how little — you want to share. There are ways to answer these annoying inquiries with respect for both yourself and the person putting you on the spot. Not sure how? Here, psychologists reveal their best strategies that go beyond “More wine, please:”
“So you are still single?”
Going stag to holiday parties inspires people to comment on your dating status. Oftentimes, this can make a single person feel a wave of shame or struggle with their confidence, explains love and relationship psychologist Sarah Schewitz. Especially if you have recently gone through a string of terrible bad dates or you are fresh out of a relationship you thought was the relationship, it can be painful to discuss feelings of loneliness. Schewitz explains there are a few ways to handle this sticky situation: brushing it off and changing the subject or challenging the other person.
If you want to go the first route, consider saying: “Yes, single and loving it! How is that new job of yours?” For the second, try to get to the root of the question, which will probably put some pressure on the other person to think carefully the next time they ask someone about their status: “I am getting the sense that you have some judgment around that for me. Is that true?” Schewitz recommends.
This may be an effective tactic since transformational coach and New York Times best-selling author Christy Whitman says this question is more of a reflection of their mindset than it is a reflection of you. “Without even realizing it, the questioner is attempting to pull you into his or her own experience of lack and shortage consciousness. Acknowledge that you have the power to choose whether to join them there, or remain in a mindset of faith and abundance,” she shares. What does this mean? They are working through their own issues and using you as the punching bag to do so. You do not have to let them.
“You work all the time!”
Older generations may struggle to adjust to the new norm of the workforce. Or, they can see you popping out your laptop to answer a few quick emails, and think you are never free from the demands of your job. Schewitz says sometimes family members have implied and unspoken meanings behind this question, one of which could be a way of them hinting at the fact they miss you. If your gut tells you they are craving more of your attention, she suggests saying: “Ugh, I know. I work a lot but I would love to carve out more time to see each other. Can we set something up?”
Another motivation for this question could be a bit more negative, and they could see your job as a hindrance to your social life or even your happiness. If you are choosing to work long hours and stay ever connected because you are satisfied with your career, there is no harm in sharing that. “You might say something like: ‘I feel so fulfilled with my work and absolutely love what I do so it doesn’t feel like work at all,’” she suggests.
“When are you two going to get married?”
Whether you are in no rush to walk down the aisle or for whatever reason do not believe marriage is the right move for you, the choice is between a party of two — not the whole family. Even so, plenty of well-intentioned members may subtly encourage you to take your relationship to what they define as the ‘next’ level.
What they are implying is a judgment, according to Schewitz, and that they believe you are taking too long to get hitched. Before you head away for holiday celebrations, Schewitz says it is important to get aligned with your one and only, so you can go to battle together Psychologist Matt Grzesiak suggests something along these lines: “When we decide that it is the right time. At this stage of our relationship, we are more than happy living the way we do. Love is what connects us more than anything.”
“When are you two going to start your family?”
Of all of the intrusive questions to handle during the holiday season, the one around having a baby can be incredibly sensitive. After all, one in eight couples will battle some form of infertility — whether in conceiving or carrying a fetus to term.
Thomas says that the decision to have a baby or a family is private and personal, and if you decide against becoming a parent, you should not face criticism for your choice. Thomas suggests something like “That is a choice between my partner and me, that we are discussing privately.” Then, you can inquire about something less intense to switch the gears of the convo.
“Looks like you have packed on some weight this year!”
If you have been thinking about losing some pounds or changing your lifestyle, this blunt remark could cause you to feel less motivated to take action. And if your recent weight gain is caused by a medical issue, it could put you in a tough spot if you do not want to go into detail about a private matter. As Grzesiak explains, obesity shaming is an unfortunate fact of life, and people who do it need to have boundaries set. Quite simply, you can just shut them down by saying something like, “That is not really your place and I do not appreciate the comment.”
If you are not ready to shut down the noisy neighbor, Thomas suggests nipping the question in the bud quickly so further comments are prevented. She recommends a vague approach: “Yeah, it has been a year! How did the move go?” When you do this, you are making it evident you do not want to divulge and that you are uncomfortable. Hopefully, the other half of the convo will take a clue — and back off.
“When are you moving back home?”
If you are the only one out of dozens of cousins who flew the coop, you are probably plagued by this question every time you venture back to the neighborhood. Thomas says it is best to approach this inquiry with a healthy dose of kindness and firmness since you want to tread gently but also make it clear you do not intend to return to their zip code. “Let them know that as much as you have loved the hometown, you are learning and growing where you are living now and that you have a new place you call home,” she suggests. “Emphasize that you are still able to carry the hometown with you by staying in contact with your family and friends who remain there.”
“You look so skinny! Are you eating?”
It is never your responsibility to answer anyone’s comments about your body. Case closed. For when someone asks about your eating habits or feigns concern over your small frame, Schewitz suggests, “I am being healthy. We do not need to discuss my weight.” You can also simply put them off by changing the subject. If you are passionate about weight loss and have lost weight, it is fine to share your story. Regardless though, Schewtiz says to only say or respond at your own comfort level.
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