How to Avoid Family Feuds During the Holidays
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.
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.
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.
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