The Ellie Blog

Mental health tips and insights

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Dealing with Family Conflict

Whether it’s the holidays or an upcoming family vacation, family conflict can overshadow the occasion and make everyone miserable.

Sure, everyone loves Uncle Steve and Aunt Marlene. But when they get to talking about politics and conspiracy theories, maybe it riles the entire group into a shouting match. So how do you navigate family get-togethers with the least amount of conflict?

Can’t figure out how to deal with family conflict? Reach out to Ellie Mental Health today and talk with an expert.

Setting Boundaries to Avoid Sensitive Statements or Upsetting Topics

Let’s face it. Not every family is going to get along every time they gather. Some family members are just like oil and water – or probably more like gasoline and a match. This is why it’s important to set boundaries and agree on a few particulars before gathering together.

For example, if you already know that your family is divided politically or religiously, it might be best to avoid talking about these subjects while together. See if you can get everyone to enter a truce, or simply agree to keep politics and religion off of the table during get-togethers.

In addition, you may have personal boundaries that you need to set for yourself. Perhaps you’re accustomed to being quizzed about your life every time you gather with family. But remember, not every question is a “loaded question.” For example, maybe when your mother asks how college is going, it probably doesn’t mean she wishes you would change your major and not end up as a starving artist.

The key takeaway here is to not jump to any conclusions, and if talking about your personal life is off-limits for you, let that be known upfront.

Keep Your Expectations Realistic

Some people simply won’t change. If you already know that some of your relatives have behaved the same way for years, it’s best to prepare for this instead of hoping for it to be different.

When dealing with “difficult” relatives, consider the following tips:

  • Try to direct the conversation
  • Have a story already planned to tell
  • Change the subject if you feel uncomfortable
  • Stay at a hotel instead of with family
  • Make plans with friends in town or plan your own excursions

When you keep your expectations realistic and have some planned ways to divert the conversation or take breaks, it may take some of the pre-family-party jitters away.

Practice Gratitude and Have Some Grace

Next time you’re at a family gathering, just look around and take it all in. While some family members may be genuinely toxic and difficult to be around, it’s good practice to check in with yourself and dig deeper into why you don’t want to tolerate certain family members. Could you have underlying resentment you haven’t processed? Are there passive aggressive or lingering conflicts you need to talk out? Are you being judgmental or making assumptions without giving your family member a chance?

While it can be easy to get into a pattern of focusing on the negative, annoying, or unkind things your family does, take time to consider the positive aspects you appreciate about them. Yes, your mom might still lecture you on the smallest things (or big things). But can you recall any happy memories or the times she gave you advice you wish you took?

When you can come together with family and understand that things change, time moves on, and some people will be left behind, it brings you closer to cultivating gratitude for everyone in your family, no matter how batty or ridiculous they can be at times.

Take a Break When You Have To

The great part about gathering for the holidays is that it is entirely optional. Sure, people will miss you if you don’t show up. But if you do decide to show up, you’re not obligated to stick around for every activity.

If you’re feeling anxious because of already ensuing family drama, excuse yourself politely and leave. Or if you’re at home, go take a walk or find a quiet place to sit and be comfortable. If you’re in town for a few days, head back to the hotel or go see an old friend. Options to avoid any family conflict will be available. It’s up to you to know when to break away and get some space.

Additionally, it’s always a good option to keep company with those in your family who are usually drama free. Maybe your cousin Brantley is completely drama free and loves to talk about tropical fish for some reason. And even though you’ve always found it boring yet strangely interesting, by hanging with him for a bit, at least you’ll be safe from the conflict – and you might even learn a thing or two about South American Pacu!

Practice Gratitude and Have Some Grace

Next time you’re at a family gathering, just look around and take it all in. While some family members may be genuinely toxic and difficult to be around, it’s good practice to check in with yourself and dig deeper into why you don’t want to tolerate certain family members. Could you have underlying resentment you haven’t processed? Are there passive aggressive or lingering conflicts you need to talk out? Are you being judgmental or making assumptions without giving your family member a chance?

While it can be easy to get into a pattern of focusing on the negative, annoying, or unkind things your family does, take time to consider the positive aspects you appreciate about them. Yes, your mom might still lecture you on the smallest things (or big things). But can you recall any happy memories or the times she gave you advice you wish you took?

We’re only here for a short time. And life can change in the blink of an eye. As such, it’s best to be grateful that you have time to share with the special people in your life – and acknowledge their presence as a blessing. You don’t want to leave the holiday season with regrets – especially if you said anything hurtful or spiteful.

When you can come together with family and understand that things change, time moves on, and some people will be left behind, it brings you closer to cultivating gratitude for everyone in your family, no matter how batty or ridiculous they can be at times.

Remember that everyone has feelings. Everyone deals with life differently and has their own quirks and idiosyncrasies. Words are expensive. Once you use them, you can’t take them back as easily.

At the end of the day, the best way to deal with conflict during the holidays is to meet everyone with loving-kindness and set boundaries with the intention to cultivate a healthy holiday season – not out of spite. Be the candle in a dimly lit room. Become the smile that everyone wants to be met with. And put away any issues from the years before for a few hours. It really can be this simple.

Take a Break When You Have To

Ok, but remember that family gatherings are entirely optional. Sure, people will miss you if you don’t show up for the 4th of July barbecue, and if you do decide to show up, you’re not obligated to stick around for every activity.

A lot of people skip therapy around the holidays or summer break because of travel or general busyness, but therapy can be even more helpful around those times. You might be glad to have that anchor of support as family challenges come up.

Can’t figure out how to deal with family conflict? Reach out to Ellie Mental Health today and talk with an expert.

If the dynamics are too toxic, perhaps it’s time to set more firm boundaries or forgo this year’s gathering entirely. Here are some of the words of advice that our therapists shared:

  • It’s okay to RSVP “no” to some events to reduce stress and costs. Prioritize the gatherings most meaningful to you.
  • We know dealing with family can be… a lot. If the drama starts up, remember you can’t control others – just focus on yourself! Find common ground, and lead with empathy.
  • When it all gets overwhelming, take a breather! Step outside for some fresh air to clear your head. A little reset goes a long way.
  • Reflect on what your favorite parts of the holidays are and just focus on those parts. You don’t need to live a Hallmark movie or do all the things to have a meaningful holiday.
  • Self-care is key. Try journaling, breathing exercises, yoga – anything that helps you feel centered. Be gentle with yourself.
  • If you’re feeling anxious because of already ensuing family drama, excuse yourself politely and leave. Or if you’re at home, go take a walk or find a quiet place to sit and be comfortable. If you’re in town for a few days, head back to the hotel or go see an old friend. Options to avoid any family conflict will be available. It’s up to you to know when to break away and get some space.

Additionally, it’s always a good option to prioritize your time with those in your family who are usually more drama-free and make you feel good about yourself.

At the end of the day, the best way to deal with conflict with families is to meet everyone with loving-kindness and set boundaries to protect your own mental health.