Conflict at Christmas
Conflict at Christmas
Thoughts to help us this Christmas
Getting together with family is, for many of us, a huge part of Christmas. But whilst that fills some of us with joy, for many the very thought of it can fill us with apprehension or even dread. When family get together a lot of old issues and behaviours can come out, so, as we approach Christmas, I thought it would be helpful to look at some ways to navigate the festive season if conflict may arise.
It’s important to have a balanced perspective. If we’re going to navigate conflict well there are some things that are important to understand about ourselves and the situation. One of the most important is that past behaviour is the best predictor of future behaviour. Right now some of you are thinking ‘Great, so it’s not going to be good’ but whilst history is important it isn’t perfect as people can learn and grow over time. The upside is that if we know where things tend to go wrong it’s easier to make a plan to keep things smoother. We need to remember that our minds tend to have a negative bias so as Christmas gets closer we start to remember what Uncle Bob did that was really out of line and brace ourselves wondering what will happen this year.
With this in mind, take some time to think about the last couple of Christmas days and write out some of the things you liked and where things went wrong. Often there are certain subjects or parts of the day that trigger fights or disagreements. Sometimes alcohol can also play a part. Have a think about what sorts of things tend to make you react or feel uncomfortable. If you put it on paper, it helps to clarify your thoughts and you see the situation more clearly.
Understand Your Boundaries: One of the common triggers for conflict is when people push past our boundaries unwittingly or deliberately. We all have physical and emotional boundaries that define what we are comfortable with and what we find intrusive. Many conflicts spark when people make comments that attack or probe areas that we don’t want to go into. It’s important to think through how you will handle these issues prior to the day. Often the best policy is to say a little but leave out anything sensitive, then redirect the conversation, or take a break and go to a different room. (For a good coverage of this topic take a look at Townsend and Cloud’s book “Boundaries”. It’s an excellent read)
Putting together a survival plan
1) Where will the family get together be held? Can you have it in a more neutral location? For example, some families go to a restaurant because it ensures better behaviour and a little less wine consumed on the day.
2) Manage your own reactions: family know all of the most sensitive buttons to press. Often they press them purely to get a reaction. By responding it’s actually giving the other person what they wanted. But when we choose not to retaliate or respond we can avert a lot of the difficulties that might otherwise arise.
3) If you have a partner or there are members of your family you’re close to, talk in advance so that you can work out how to best support each other: sometimes we don’t realise when we’re starting to react but those closest to us might. Also, if you’re feeling vulnerable it’s good to have another person who can be aware of your trigger points, help divert the conversation, and take the lead so you can regain your balance. Chat through what you might need and how you can communicate this while in the difficult situation. If you won’t have any support with you, think about a friend you can call or text if things get intense so you can connect with someone who understands what’s going on.
4) Be a rock and not a sponge: a sponge soaks everything in – the good and the bad alike – so whilst it’s good to be a sponge around safe people, it’s not wise around those who aren’t healthy emotionally. A rock on the other hand lets things bounce off the surface and not get inside. If you’re going to be around people who can get to you then think about what your triggers are. Once you know the triggers take time to develop some healthy self-talk to hold onto. When you’re in the situation try to observe your emotions rather than getting caught up in them. When you notice the emotion starting to build use it as a cue to focus on your self-talk. If that isn’t enough then take a break or call a friend.
5) Think about when you need to call it a night. It’s better to have a shorter stay and avoid conflict than to stay longer and end up arguing. Leaving early may result in recriminations but often these are easier to manage than staying in an unhealthy situation too long.
6) After – celebrate what was good and think about what you did differently that worked. Never forget to give yourself credit when it’s due.
One final word, safety comes first. If your situation is likely to involve some sort of abusive or violent behaviour then please consider not going. This is a big step but everyone has the right to be safe and these types of behaviour can have a significant impact on our emotional and physical health. If you’re in doubt then please speak to a pastor or trusted friend about your concerns and what to do to have a safe Christmas.
Okay, so that’s the tough stuff done. Before I sign of I’d just like to wish you every blessing for the Christmas season. It’s so moving to focus again on the fact that ours is a Saviour who was willing to be born and walk among us, to share in our lives and win our hearts. I pray you get to know him more deeply in this season and the year ahead.