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Published on December 20, 2018

angry siblings during christmas

Handling Family Discord During the Holidays

The sheer beauty of the holiday season brings forth giving hearts, joyful carols, mistletoe kisses and, in some cases, family discord. Deep down, it’s hard to admit hard feelings arise when we see family or friends.

“If being around certain people will only bring you down, don’t go. That’s not how you should be spending your time,” said Lawrence Ling, MSW-PIP, social worker at Avera Behavioral Health. “However, when it comes to family, we oftentimes have brave hearts that want to try again — especially around the holidays.”

Tension is often rooted in deep-seated differences, past abuse, alcohol or substance use, grudges, financial strains, comparisons, divorce and death. In most cases, there’s too much pride and too little forgiveness.

Going into a possible warzone requires planning. “A little thought goes a long way to avoid conflict,” said Ling. “You already know who or what topic will potentially be problematic, so be aware and proactive.”

Give yourself permission to take control of the situation with Ling’s tips:

  1. Make a password. Before attending a gathering, establish a password with your spouse or friend when it’s time to bail. “We have to take off; thank you for the company, food and drink!”
  2. Take a walk. When the atmosphere starts to get tense, quietly excuse yourself into another room or take a quick breather outside. Storming out displays a lack of maturity.
  3. Set boundaries. If there is a hot button topic in your family, decide unanimously to set those subjects aside. From social media accounts, everyone knows everyone’s opinion on a certain issue; set it aside for the day because it will still be there in the morning.
  4. Steer toward the positive. Each year brings trials and tribulations, as well as blessings. Ask your family members and friends about the good things they’ve experienced — family milestones and new experiences.
  5. Take the high road. If someone becomes confrontational, diffuse the situation. “I understand there’s a lot of tension around this subject, and I care about it just as much as you. But we’re family, so let’s just be that today.”

People aren’t perfect. When that fact is accepted, it’s easier to show grace and kindness toward others as well as yourself. You may never be able to undo the past, but that doesn’t mean you can’t take a step toward protecting your emotional health or even repairing a relationship.

“Make your decision about whether to attend a holiday gathering and implement your tools with confidence,” said Ling. “Give yourself the gift of self-care and self-respect, and follow through with what’s right for you.”

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