Some of us experience mixed feelings about visiting our relatives. Of the many reasons to dread get-togethers, family gatherings can shove painful favoritism in our faces.

After time apart, it’s hard to be reminded of the family hierarchy, and of who the “favorites” are. We begin to compare our experience to others’, seeing that certain members are treated with more privileges than we are. This kind of favoritism shown to a relative hurts, and can make you (understandably) feel inferior.

Is favoritism in families avoidable?

Unfortunately, despite the pain of favorites in families, preference is human nature. Thus, family is no different.

As people gravitate to what makes them feel best they show preferential behavior to certain family members which can leave others feeling upset and unseen.

What to do when favoritism is shown to a relative of yours

Since it’s unavoidable, you have to learn to deal! Here are some ideas for how:

1. Remember you have favorites, too

The first step to dealing with favoritism is accepting that you too have favorites within your family. Look within to notice how each person in your family is different, and how your feelings toward them differ.

Although you may love your relatives equally, you definitely connect with some more than others. By acknowledging your own biases you allow yourself space to empathize with your other family members’ behavior.

Also, remember that with each person, you may have certain activities that you prefer doing with them; or, inversely, you might despise doing certain activities with them. Your uncle might not be very friendly at holiday parties, but you two can spend hours together playing cards or hiking.

2. Honor your boundaries

Although you may be capable of treating others equally despite your own preferences, you see that many people simply cannot.

Given the taboo of favoritism, many people do not want to admit their behavior, in fear of hurting others, even if it is very obvious to the rest of the group. Alternatively, they may not even be aware that they are creating a dynamic of favoritism.

Your best defense against mistreatment is to be firm in your boundaries: show what you are – and are NOT – willing to tolerate.

If, for example, your parents make you clean more than your siblings, speak up. Note the unfairness and how it upsets you. Then, communicate what’s fair for you to do to, and do not overstep that boundary. Although there may be friction when you set boundaries, this is an easier path than trying to make your relatives admit to their favoritism. 

3. Value your own happiness

Most importantly, know that some people simply do not fit into their families. Another taboo in a world where “family is forever,” people often continue to partake in holiday activities among people who do not respect them.

As much as skipping a party may cause drama, if you dread spending time with your family (and you can make alternative plans), do not feel guilty about rescheduling.

Recent trends reveal that more young people choose to spend the holidays with people they connect with, rather than subject themselves to family tension. You have the right to feel good, and subjecting yourself to pain does not truly benefit you or your family.

If there are a few members you would like to see, perhaps consider making plans with them individually, and skipping the gathering with the family members whose favoritism hurts you.

What if favoritism is shown to me?

If you are aware that you are treated with favoritism, be mindful of how this affects your family dynamic. If it has been the family joke that you are the favorite but you have ignored this, try taking time to see yourself from the perspective of your other family members.

You cannot control how others see you, but you can always act to make others feel more at ease. Unfortunately, family competition is common, and although you may not feel better than anyone else, others feeling less by comparison may have created a disconnect.

Try connecting with your family on their terms and finding out more about their likes and interests. This makes your connection more about how similar you are as individuals, than about levels of social hierarchy.

Preparing for holiday favoritism shown to relatives

Be aware that despite good intentions, the favoritism in your family may be so toxic that your best line of defense is to prepare ahead of time.

You likely already know the types of comments and behaviors that upset you, and it is wise to prepare outlets for the event that your emotions start to turn (other than that giant bottle of red wine).

You may not have control of your first set of thoughts, but you can choose how you react next. Utilizing tools such as establishing your boundaries, preparing scripts, and knowing your outlets can place you at an advantage as you tolerate the favoritism in your family. 

1. Defend your boundaries

As previously mentioned, knowing your boundaries can shield you against mistreatment–if you also defend them. Planning scripts to enforce your boundaries can help escape potentially heated conversations.

In some families, favoritism results in prying questions or unfair requests. Respond with a simple “I appreciate your interest but do not want to have this conversation right now.”

Or, deny an unfair request with: “I can help with cooking, but will only clean with someone else’s help.” Use I-statements and avoid leading with blame (“you”) or judgment (“why”) to further help smooth out communication. 

2. Find ‘safe’ outlets

Take inventory of your outlets at your holiday events. Even if there’s favoritism shown to a relative in your family, you probably have some ‘safe’ relatives to vent to, and other outlets.

Connect with a family member who understands the toxic favoritism in your family before the holiday gathering; you can agree to watch out for each other’s mistreatment and to help each other escape distressing situations.

Be mindful of seating arrangements and conversations that will place you in a situation you cannot easily leave. Set alarms on your phone to remind yourself to take a break and step outside to re-group with your feelings. Finally, consider connecting with a friend ahead of time to see if they can be be on-call, or reach out to support online, to vent.

Parting Advice: Be your own favorite.

We all want to be liked and valued, and hurting in reaction to feeling undervalued is completely normal. When there’s favoritism shown to a relative, your self worth can plummet.

Again, favoritism is often unconscious and few are willing to admit to these feelings. But you know what is fair to you and what feels good to you; thus, it is in your best interest to choose your holiday activities accordingly.

Remember that favoritism is a reflection of the person choosing favorites, not a reflection of your worth. And finally, remember most of us do not choose our families, so there’s always a good chance we just won’t fit in with our relatives.

You are more than the acceptance of people who do not accept you – even if they are supposed to. Prioritize your happiness this holiday season, be around people who understand, and make yourself your own favorite.