Thanksgiving Day | Going Home | Family Dynamics
Thanksgiving Day 2016
Ah, it’s that time again.
We are about to climb into our cars, board planes, or open our homes to family members and friends to celebrate an American tradition: coming together at the Thanksgiving Day meal, tossing around the ball for a friendly game of flag football, and figuring out how on earth we were ever comfortable sleeping on those tiny, double-sized twin beds.
This year has another special feature to integrate. How do we integrate or avoid arguing with people over conflicting views about the the new presidential administration and proposed changes? And what, if anything, does this have to do with your mental and emotional health?
You tell me. I mean, literally: you all have been telling me over the last two weeks. People are reporting that they are thinking about this challenge. People are asking me what to consider as they make plans to spend time with family, friends, and community members, as its citizens discuss their views of the future under a new president and administration.
And some are already changing plans, based on what is happening in their homes and friend’s home, with some of that decision having nothing to do with the election. They have long-standing conflict that has been lingering for years.
Read on for more tips to consider before you meet together.
Tips to Consider Before You Get Together
I’ve provided some general tips for you to consider before you go home or spend time with friends and family, many of whom you may have ongoing conflict with over the years, and the recent election may have intensified those differences into sharper and more painful focus.
Check in with yourself first. What practices help you to gather your strength, keep your head, and prevent you from being reactive to bait and switch arguments, provocative or inflammatory remarks, painful teasing, or overtly demanding personalities?
For example, you may find that ten minutes of calm breathing and quiet help you to check in with yourself and enter another person’s space with strength and control, allowing you to pick and choose how you want to respond to others rather than feeling reactive and out of control.
Consider what the goal of your time with family or friends truly is for you. What is your goal for the time you are going to spend with your family or friends? Is it to heal a particular wound? Is it to simply spend time together and show care for the people in the room? Is it to confront someone who has hurt you?
Ask yourself if this gathering is the right time and place to deal with long-standing conflict, present facts about your beliefs and values (unless they are truly unknown by the other party), or host a tension-filled debate. Know what you are getting into, and assess your agenda.
If you intend to confront the conflict (or if it is unavoidable), give the other party at least a couple of opportunities to reconsider how to proceed. By asking calmly and clearly, “I wanted to make sure that you understand that if you demand that we actually talk about [the issues of conflict] right now, we might not feel good about one another for awhile, and you may be upset. So if you want to do this now, please let me know that you are completely aware of what this may cost us both. However, I only want to talk about this when we can do this fairly, and with some ground rules.”
Do your best to establish ground rules for engagement, either for deferring the points of differences to another time, or for how to host a tense conversation without dissolving into name calling and insults. This is for everyone’s mental and emotional health involved. If there are younger children at your gathering, it is an imperative that they be shielded from arguments and fighting. You do not need to commit to any situation that involves drinking alcohol and abusive behaviors.
You may need to determine these rules of engagement before you decide to attend a gathering.
If it is your parents you are having conflicts with, understand that at least one part of your conflict is not the issue(s) itself, but the “thing under the thing.” What do I mean by “the thing under the thing”? Many of my clients have heard me say this over the years: the majority of our conflicts with family members, and in particular our parents, is not the surface conflict, but the underlying family system problem underneath.
When I ask about the feelings that are stirred up when clients are facing up to resentment, enmeshment, poor attachment issues (in both directions) and inappropriate roles the child and siblings took on for parent’s marital conflicts and family survival, a host of other problems come rolling out from underneath the rock on the surface. The rock is the thing we point to, the “trigger” that makes us aware of a problem; the dirt underneath the rock is what we actually must understand, dig up, and deal with, if we are to ever change our roles with family members, and give ourselves a chance to develop a different way of encountering our family members.
These kinds of deep-set problems are not likely to be resolved in one day or even one weekend, so in considering a strategy towards addressing “the thing under the thing,” understand that you have the ability to think through a much longer-term strategy of how you want to relate and conduct yourself over the Thanksgiving holiday and beyond.
I have never believed that avoidance of conflict at all cost is the solution to the challenges of relating to family and friends; quite the contrary. The point of sharing these tips is not to guarantee there won’t be a fight, but rather that if you decide to engage in the conflict, the fighting might actually be effective instead of fruitless, depleting, and demoralizing.
Have your work cut out for you that goes well beyond the Thanksgiving holiday? Our office is open for the year until Dec. 24, 2017, and then officially closed (except on special permission) Dec. 25, 2016 through Jan. 1, 2017. Please contact one of us if you’d like to begin working through these issues with a counselor.
P.S. Happy Thanksgiving!