5 Ways Introverts Can Cope With Big Family Gatherings

Home Alone is my favorite Christmas movie. I think almost everyone can relate to the beginning of the movie when Kevin’s extended family is all crammed into his house, eating his cheese pizza and peeing in his bed. Huge family gatherings can bring out the worst in just about anyone, making Kevin’s explosion pretty sympathetic. But if you’re an introvert, then you probably find the first act of the movie even more stressful and nightmarish. And while every kid probably fantasized about being home alone, 'Home Alone'-style, few would relish it as much as an introvert who’s used to being part of a large brood.

For most major holidays—Thanksgiving, Christmas, the Fourth of July, and sometimes Easter—my mom and stepdad host their joint families for a meal. That means eight children, six significant others of children, four grandchildren, two great-grandparents, and a partridge in a pear tree. (Just kidding about that partridge; it’s actually five dogs.)

Sometime between the appetizers and the main course, I wind up so exhausted that I have to retreat to some upstairs room to be alone. I’ve been known to “run to the bathroom” so many times that my family starts to inquire as to whether I am feeling alright. I imagine they discuss my gastro-intestinal health in hushed tones while I’m absent.

The holiday season is still a couple of months away, but just like advertisers and major retailers, I start thinking about and planning for it early. Besides, if you have a big enough family, it is best to be prepared for that birthday party, baby shower, or bar mitzvah that may pop up and steal your weekend. Having a few different plans at your disposal can help make those times less stressful.

Do chores

After Thanksgiving dinner, I practically sprint to the kitchen sink—but not because I’m a nice person. If you volunteer to do the dishes, you’ll get some quiet time alone in the kitchen washing up while everyone else chats out in the dining room. Similarly, at Christmas, you could always be the person who takes the dog out. An even better idea is to take the dog on a walk. A long one. Even if someone wants to come with you to “keep you company,” you’ll at least get to spend some one-on-one time with them, which most introverts still find preferable to a large gathering.

Bring a book

But read the book only in moderation. As a youngster, I gained a less-than-favorable reputation for the fact that I spent a lot of the holidays sitting in a corner with my nose in a book. However, if you’re on a trip with your family or visiting them for a long weekend, you will need to get away from everyone occasionally. Even if you can’t get out of the same room as them, you can still situate yourself at the edge of the room, open a book, and create your own pocket of silence—assuming you can focus, despite whatever cacophony they are creating.

Suggest watching a movie

You may not be able to escape your family, but you can definitely make them stop talking for two hours. We often watch a movie on Christmas afternoon, and even if I don’t have an interest in watching the movie, I still find it a delightful time to zone out and be alone with my thoughts while being physically with my family.

Divide and conquer

No, I’m not telling you to try to split up your parents. Trust me—that will only enlarge and complicate your family in the long-run. What I do mean is that you don’t always have to assemble every last member of your family for every holiday or Sunday dinner. Your second-cousin-twice-removed will probably be OK with not receiving an invitation to your Christmas dinner. Besides, it's probably better if you only invite those distant relatives to really big events, such as weddings or family reunions.

You can also have separate dinners or events with different members of your close family. Maybe you can go out for brunch with your siblings on Sunday and have your parents over for dinner the next Friday. Every family is different, but most will understand if you can’t accommodate (or don’t want to deal with) 12 people at your house for dinner all at once. They’ll probably appreciate being with you in a smaller group or more intimate setting, especially if you have other introverts in your family.

Start a discussion about types

If members of your family aren’t already familiar with introversion and extraversion, talk to them about it! Having a conversation with your more outgoing family members about how you derive energy from solitude might make them take it less personally the next time you wander away from the party for a bit. You and your family could even take a Myers-Briggs or Big Five test and discuss and compare results.

Of course, most of these suggestions apply to the introvert who is only exposed to his or her large family en masse at occasional gatherings. For the introvert who lives with his or her large family—either with parents, in a multi-generational house, or with his or her own litter of children—things can get a little trickier.

Following the last tip and educating your family about types, specifically introversion and extraversion, is probably one of the most useful things you can do in those scenarios. Running off to wash dishes all of the time seems a little less personally helpful there, although I’m sure your family would appreciate it.

If you live with your large family, the most important thing you can do is to create your own space. This could be a bedroom, an office, or even a corner of the family room where everyone knows not to bother you. (As a child, my dad called me the “basement hermit.) It doesn’t even have to be a physical space; it could be a time when you know that everyone else is out of the house and that you always make sure you’re home for.

Often people confuse self-care with being selfish, but it is important to take care of yourself and give yourself the quiet and peace that you need, even if you are a member of a big family. So try not to let anyone make you feel guilty about needing “me” time.

Just don’t tell anyone to get their ugly, yella, no-good keister off your property.

Rachel Suppok

Rachel holds a B.S. in Neuroscience and usually a cup of coffee. She is an INTJ, but she is not a super-villain. Yet.

Folow Rachel on Twitter @rsuppok.


Guest (not verified) says...

Thanks Rachel!!! This was very helpful for me, a 13 year old INTJ trying to survive her very loud, Italian-Irish-Greek-English-Dutch-German-Family (sorry but I hear about that every time we visit ;)

Exempt for one of my uncles and one of my cousins, everyone in my family is an Extavert, and they are all very loud. My cousin, uncle, and I always end up locking ourselves in some room and watching a movie or reading a book, which is nice but it would be fun to go do something without they entire Maresca clan following us around.

Whenever I do try to go anywhere my grandparents and great-aunt always try to guilt me into staying. They always say "wait, your leaving us! But we had plans to do something " (which they never do). They also say rude stuff like "Oh your sick of us already" or "is it too hard to spend a little time with your family."

Believe it or not, it gets worse. A lot of the time feelers and thinkers alike don't say what they really think and just keep it to themselves. Whether it's because they don't want to hurt anyone's feelings (feelers) or they don't think it would be the smartest thing to do (thinkers) a lot of people just keep things to themselves. Unfortunately, when I'm at family gatherings, there's no holding back anything.

Every time I walk into the kitchen in the morning I already have to put up with about fifty people saying hello to me, as well as them making comments about how late I slept, or about how bad I look in the mornings. Normally, I do not sleep late. Me and my other introvert cousin, and INTP always wait until our 5 other cousins have gone to get breakfast so we can read, talk, or watch TV with out anyone else disturbing us.

While this article was helpful, I don't think it was meant for people who's family's visit every chance they get. Or for people with about 100+ family members.

Sorry if I wrote to much, I just have a hard time complaining in real life so I always complain over social media.

Guest (not verified) says...

My very large family of seven (I'm the youngest and female) and all their children and friends made for a very LOUD house growing up, especially at holidays, birthdays, Sunday dinners, surprise visits. We had an abusive father (in every way abuse can be described) and for years I watched him scream, shake, and hit my very sweet passive mother when I was small. I was terribly afraid of him and tried hard to stay out of reach when possible, not always possible.

My way of coping at big family parties was to get out the camera and take pictures of everyone having fun. That way I was NOT in the pictures and no one questioned my motives.

I have an extremely narcissistic sister (next to the oldest brother, 15 years older than me) who married and married her way into wealth. She is very pretty, but dislikes men, using her beauty to get whatever she wanted from men, and very successfully. She even had one man sign a prenup that she would never have to have sex with him. He actually signed this, and when she divorced him she got his very lovely home. Her last husband was the pot of gold, 20 years older than her, and died shortly after their marriage.
She never misses a chance to criticize me even now, even though we're all grown and into our middle age and older years. Evidently she had high hopes for me when I was younger and I didn't fulfill her expectations. She is so demanding that the whole family considers her their "leader" and they all do whatever she asks. Since she is so wealthy now, she has that "power" as well, and everyone jumps to her commands. Our dear mother passed and I no longer have to be nice to her for Mom. I have gotten to the age where I refuse to visit when she declares a family reunion or whatever; I don't need the constant criticism she dishes out. She is currently getting married again (why, I don't know, she's already a multimillionaire), but is inviting all family and kids to attend her 7th wedding. I am not going, which will cause talk, but I don't care anymore.

Guest (not verified) says...

My family always gets mad at me because I don't see the need to celebrate holidays or birthdays. I've always helped out, and tried to have fun on my relatives birthdays, but it never helps. No matter how many gifts I buy, or how many meals I prepare it never does any good.

I'm fine with celebrating others birthdays, but when it comes to my own, I HATE IT!!!!!! Whenever I ask to not have a birthday party my parents always plan one for me anyway. Whenever I try to make a decision about it they say "you never wanted one, so whatever we do can't be bad."

They choose the resturant, the food, sometimes even whose invited.

Guest (not verified) says...

Thank you so much for this article! I'm an introvert-extrovert and I'm on Christmas with my cousin's family who know me since I was a really quite child; and this is being a really awkward time! like I was at his grandma house and my aunt was like: whenever we'll be there you'll have to greet everyone and there's like 20 people there and I have such a hard time saying hello to people 'coz I think they might perceive me as a weird awkward hello? idk why and the thing is that when I'm with my college friends I don't have this problem tbh I like to be th center of attention when I'm with them but here?, I'm like thinking on every move, and word I'm fucking doing and not really having a great time.
PD. Today there's a lunch with all of them.. help me!!!

kiki (not verified) says...

I have this problem too. I'm an introvert and when going to family events, it drain the life out of me. My mom lives out of state but I live in the same state as her family. My mother is the oldest of her 12 siblings, all but two aren't marry yet. Not to mention, they are extrovert, likes to parties, drink and smoke. I'm not about that life. I feel out of place because all of their kids are still very young too, thank goodness I have my sister. The only real reason I show up is because of grandma. I love my family but every reunion is a challenge.

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