24 Dec Communicating With Difficult People During the Holidays by Sara Loughlin, LCSW
The holidays are a wonderful time of year for some, a very stressful time for others, and a mixture of both for many people. One of the factors that leads to stress is getting together with family members. Many of us have difficult relationships with some of the people in our families, and anxiety and even conflict can arise when we are in close proximity, often for an extended number of days. Here are some tools for communicating with difficult family members.
It is important to try to manage our own anxiety that arises from being in these difficult situations. What many people do to cope with anxiety is to drink alcohol, but of course that increases the chances for conflict and for things to get out of control. Healthy ways to manage our anxiety would be to get some time to unwind through meditating, exercising, or even taking a long hot shower. Deep breathing in the moment is very helpful in managing our emotions and being able to stay in a rational, as opposed to emotional, state.
A lot of times we are triggered by people because we want them to change. Most of the time, our family members are not going to change, especially if they feel attacked in their positions. A perspective that I think is very simple and powerful is “radical acceptance.” If we accept that a family member has values and behaviors we don’t agree with, we can then not take it as personally and not engage with them regarding our differences. That is not to say that we need to endure attacks or abusive behavior. If the person is engaging in attacks on your character, this can be a good time to establish healthy boundaries with this person. Another good tool can be avoidance. If the person has a pattern of connecting in a negative or unhealthy way, it may be best to try to avoid that person to the extent that it is possible.
We also need to look at our part in the conflict or difficult communication. Esther Perel, a relationship expert, developed this chart to help guide us towards dialogue and away from debate: