Fighting With Family

by Andrea M. Darcy
Reviewed by Dr Sheri Jacobson

Dreading fighting with family this holiday season? And worried about another blowout?

How can you best navigate family politics?

1. Dial down your expectations.

Expect your family to respect you and treat you like the adult you are — even though they never do? Or expect your mother to not tell the story from when you were sixteen, even though she always does?

Expectations become a fast track to frustration and are often how we end up fighting with family. We feel let down again, even when we know that the other person always lets us down.

We simply can’t change someone. We can’t make them act a certain way. What we can do is take a hard look at our expectations and realise what ones have to go.

2. Cut yourself some slack.

Another person you need to lower expectations for? Yourself.

Always expecting yourself to behave perfectly, not get stressed by your mother, not respond to your sister’s baiting, to be completely calm… it really realistic?

And are you really such a ‘terrible person’ or a ‘failure’ if you get snappy with family, like, oh.....most of us out there?

A lot of the time our stress around family comes from the shame we heap on ourselves if we don’t match up to some standard we’ve decided on.

And the more we stress in advance, the more stressed we are going in, the more easily we react. Which leads on to the next point.

3. Show up neutral.

If we are feeling tense already, then if there is one person who could push us over the edge it will be a family member who knows all our buttons.

So the idea is to make time to ‘decharge’ your emotions before seeing your parents or showing up for family dinner or a reunion.

Great tools here include:

Don’t make shapes.

We’re not talking dancing! But fight tactics.

A triangle is when you pull a third person into a dispute, so one person is ganged up on by two. And this can be done without the third person being physically there. An example would be fighting with a sibling then saying, “Well Mother always says that you do that, too.”

If you have something to discuss or resolve with someone, keep it between them and you. Or a small disagreement can blow into a giant family feud.

Just say no.

Family can be the one place we have very leaky boundaries, even if we have managed to sort out good limits at work and with partners or our children.

And it’s the moment we yet again say yes to something we don’t want to do that we get frustrated and snappy and end up in battling with a family member.

The secret to saying no is not to justify it, and to use the ‘broken record’ technique. Don’t give reasons or excuses as it gives the other person room to manipulate you. If they ask why, just repeat no in a different way. No I can’t do that, no I won’t be helping with that, no, it’s not possible, I’m not available, I’m afraid you’ll have to find someone else.

Time to unpack your long history of difficulties with your family and find ways to heal and move forward? Find a therapist you like at a price you can afford and start talking.

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