How to Avoid Family Feuds During the Holidays

This blog has been updated from it’s original publish date.

In an ideal world, the holidays would only be filled with good times and happy memories. Unfortunately, most families don’t live in that Norman Rockwell reality.

It seems that every family has at least one relative who excels at creating drama during the holidays. When you’re around such negative or aggressive people, it’s common to feel apprehensive, defensive, and uncomfortable. Your body may react to stressful situations by secreting excessive amounts of adrenaline, which will make you feel even more anxious and on edge.

What Causes Family Strife?

There are many reasons why arguments flare up during holiday gatherings. Some family members just enjoy creating drama. Others want to be the center of every conversation. Then there’s the gossiper who ignites emotional brushfires wherever she goes or the loudmouth who has no filter and is only too happy to inform you that you’ve gained weight since the last time he saw you.

Alcohol could be another culprit. Liquid courage has been known to loosen tongues and lower inhibitions. For people who love stirring the pot by bringing up controversial or politically charged topics, alcohol can act as an accelerant for all manner of bad behaviors.

An abrasive family member may have a type of ADD that drives them to be combative. Many people with ADD have low activity in the brain’s prefrontal cortex, due to lower levels of the neurotransmitter dopamine. To feel more alert, many people with ADD seek out conflict. If they can lure you into an argument, the low energy in their frontal brain is stimulated, and that rush temporarily makes them feel better. Don’t let your anger become their medication. They can get addicted to it!

So how do you handle someone who thrives on conflict? Fighting fire with fire, by raising your voice or using abusive or unsavory language, certainly won’t help matters. Avoiding confrontations isn’t the answer either, since minimizing or brushing aside a dispute can further embolden the instigator and make things even worse. To effectively deal with disagreements, handle them calmly and appropriately as they happen.

Implement these 6 practical tips when encountering family strife this holiday season:

6 Strategies for Handling Holiday Strife

Keep Your Cool

To prevent a pressure packed situation from getting out of hand, always keep your cool. Discipline yourself to remain quiet until you’re calm enough to speak at a normal volume and in a kind tone. Closely monitor your comments and reactions to make sure they’re coming from a rational place, rather than an emotional one. Offer thoughtful advice rather than criticism. Tone of voice is crucial in disarming a potentially heightened situation. Always model calm behavior and others will likely follow your example.

Build a Bridge

Instead of trying to convince the other person that your viewpoint is correct, attempt to understand their perspective as well. The main objective isn’t to win the argument but to remove potential threats, address concerns and find common ground with the other person. Building a bridge is one of the best ways to avert a quarrel before it even starts.

Distract Yourself

Some people have the ability to mentally escape to a happy place during heated discussions or tense moments. Others can sing a song or hum a tune in their head to distract themselves. Hopefully you won’t have to literally bite your tongue to remain silent, but whatever you need to do to keep from being dragged into the middle of a family feud is worth trying.

Take a Time-out

When someone raises their voice or begins to lose their temper, take a family time-out. This type of collective breather is when everyone in the family goes to a separate part of the house for a designated period (10-15 minutes). Spending some time away from other family members may help everyone settle down and forget about the argument. A cooldown period only works if you have buy-in from the entire family, so make sure everyone agrees with taking a time-out to avoid starting yet another argument.

Try Whispering

When others are yelling, start whispering. The dramatic change in the decibel level of your voice will most likely make everyone stop talking to hear what you have to say. Something in our psyche makes us lean in and listen more attentively when someone is whispering. This tactic has been used with great success from board rooms to political assemblies. If a family argument is getting out of control, try whispering to see if you can get everyone’s attention. Then you can attempt to deescalate the conflict.

Take It Outside

When drawn into a discussion that makes you feel uncomfortable, look for a way to redirect the conversation. If that doesn’t work, find a polite way to remove yourself from the situation. Another strategy is to get the entire family outside for some fun and exercise. This is an effective way to let off some steam when things get too tense inside the house.

It’s been said that the holidays bring out the best and worst in people. When it comes to the latter, you don’t have to let someone else ruin your holiday. Practicing these conflict management strategies can help to ensure that everyone in your family enjoys a fun-filled, stress-free holiday season.

The best way to improve mood, increase energy, and optimize brain function is to get brain SPECT imaging at one of the Amen Clinics. By discovering your brain type, we can create a tailored solution for you.

At Amen Clinics, we’re committed to treating our patients with the least toxic, most effective regimen possible. For more information on how SPECT imaging can provide a customized treatment plan for you or a loved one who is struggling with behavioral or mental issues, call us today at 888-288-9834 or visit us online to schedule a visit.


  1. Is reading a book on Kindle considered same as time spent on the computer?

    Comment by Viktoriya Vecorko — December 7, 2017 @ 8:20 PM

  2. Hello Dr. Amen, I am in that particular situation where my sister in law called me to advise me about my mild “autistic daughter”. My husband and I have had problems with her before. Years ago she lost her job, and became recluse, depressed, and didn’t see people or us,. To make a long story short, she started taking medications for her depression and acted defensive towards our family. She called to advise on my daughter’s up bringing, and that’s when I cussed her out, and became upset at her, I completely lost it and told her off. I tried calling her and texting her, but she refused to talk to me, so I gave up on her. What do you advise me to do???

    Comment by Rebecca Habache — December 16, 2017 @ 7:28 AM

  3. This message is for Rebecca and anyone else who can hold you hostage when you finally have had enough and take an action such as telling your truth by shouting it out. I have had one situation with our daughter for 10 years and another situation for seven years. Finally, I am intentionally not criticizing myself for other people’s behavior. My inner child was badly wounded with chronic developmental abuse and trauma by multiple abusers. Re-enactment is a reality when we are triggered by certain people who may look like our abusers, or their voices may sound like our abusers, or their actions may Mirror our abusers without our conscious awareness. I have worked a 12-step AL-Anin program for 34 years. My whole family has been impacted by this baffling and cunning ever present disease. I have many tools and I am using every one of them over the holidays. I wish you all Peace, Love, and Joy in this holy season. Susan Gorman, M.A., SEP, ISP, NICABM Next Level Practitioner

    Comment by Susan Gorman — December 19, 2018 @ 8:02 AM

  4. I have a college age grandson who is ADD and just failed all his classes. What can we do and where do we start to help this child?

    Comment by Susan Keeling — December 19, 2018 @ 8:18 AM

  5. Hi Susan. My advice for your grandson, from a mother of two sons with ADD, is either (1) a full time job in something that can keep him challenged, (2) technical school in something he’s interested in, or (3) the military (preferably Navy or Marines). Whatever you do, don’t coddle him but do let him know you support him in his next endeavor. School is not for everyone. This is assuming he applied himself, has tried his best, and isn’t partying too much.

    Comment by Stephanie — December 19, 2018 @ 10:19 PM

  6. This post was truly worthwhile to read. I wanted to say thank you for the key points you have pointed out as they are enlightening.

    Comment by Margaret — July 29, 2022 @ 12:37 PM

  7. My twenty three year old granddaughter is suicidal. She was diagnosed bi-polar. She was taken to the hospital last night. Because she cut herself and required stiches. From there she was taken to a behavioral unit. Any advice would be deeply appreciated.

    Comment by Brenda Barnes — December 8, 2023 @ 6:21 AM

  8. Thank you for shedding so much light on brain health. Our family is experiencing a lot of strife right now between each other and a daughter-in-law (really just our son's girlfriend bc she doesn't want to be married) who literally hates our family(me, my husband, and our two daughters). She gives us all the silent treatment, or a negative comment if she is agitated by us loving our son and grandson, or even her daughter(step grand daughter born when mom was 17, never married that dad). Our family gatherings have been miserable, one daughter won’t come around anymore and there is a huge wedge between our family. I have sought a therapist who said she is a narcissist, she won’t change and there is nothing I can say or do. The only thing I can do is try to keep the peace within our family. I will share this article. Thanks again and please send a lifeline if you can!!!!!!

    Comment by Suzy Morris — June 17, 2024 @ 6:10 AM

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