Dealing with difficult family members during Thanksgiving can be challenging, but navigating these situations with patience and understanding is possible. Dr. Aldrich Chan is a Miami, Florida, Neuropsychologist who shares some strategies to help you manage difficult family dynamics during the holiday:
- Set Boundaries:
Clearly establish your personal boundaries and communicate them prior to the event, if necessary. Let family members know what behavior is unacceptable and what you are willing to tolerate.
- Stay Calm:
When faced with difficult family members, allow your expectations to reduce potential escalations (e.g. it would be strange if person X was not difficult). Try to remain calm and composed. Avoid escalating conflicts by keeping your emotions in check.
Try to understand the perspectives and emotions of the difficult family member. Empathy can help defuse tense situations and lead to more productive conversations.
- Active Listening:
Give the difficult family member a chance to express themselves. Actively listen to their concerns or frustrations, even if you don’t agree with them. To help them feel understood, paraphrase what they told you. This can help them feel heard, and may help you better understand where they are coming from.
- Avoid Triggers:
Be mindful of topics that trigger conflict or arguments, and steer clear of them. Focus on neutral or positive subjects to keep the atmosphere pleasant.
- Change the Subject:
If a conversation is becoming contentious, change the subject to something more neutral or positive. This can redirect the focus and alleviate tension. These conversations may be had at a different time.
- Deflect Criticism:
If you’re the target of criticism or negativity, respond with a deflecting, positive comment or simply change the subject. Avoid engaging in a defensive or confrontational manner. You can follow up with them at a different time, addressing this individually.
- Offer Compliments:
Compliments and expressions of gratitude can go a long way in diffusing tension. Acknowledge and appreciate the positive qualities of your family members.
- Take Breaks:
If you find a conversation escalating or if you feel overwhelmed, take a short break. Step outside or into another room to regroup and calm yourself.
- Limit Alcohol:
Alcohol can lower inhibitions and sometimes exacerbate conflicts. Be mindful of your alcohol consumption, and encourage others to do the same.
- Be a Peacemaker:
If you’re comfortable doing so, try to mediate between family members in conflict. Encourage understanding and compromise and help them find common ground.
- Lead by Example:
Model respectful and positive behavior for other family members. Your demeanor can set the tone for the gathering.
- Avoid the Blame Game:
Avoid blaming or criticizing difficult family members, as this is unlikely to lead to a productive resolution. Focus on solutions and understanding instead.
Remind everyone of the purpose of Thanksgiving: to express gratitude and come together as a family. Encourage family members to focus on what they’re thankful for.
- Seek Support:
If you’re struggling to manage a difficult family situation, consider seeking advice or support from a therapist or counselor.
Ultimately, it’s important to approach difficult family members with patience and a willingness to foster understanding. Remember that you cannot control their behavior, but you can control your own reactions and responses. By staying composed, empathetic, and focused on the positive aspects of the holiday, you can help create a more harmonious Thanksgiving gathering.
Dr Aldrich Chan is a Miami, Florida, Neuropsychologist author of the award-winning book Reassembling Models of Reality published in the prestigious Interpersonal Neurobiology Series and founder of the Center for Neuropsychology and Consciousness. In addition to his practice, he was sought out to teach as an Adjunct Professor for the Doctoral program and Masters at Pepperdine University.