Whether your family is getting together in person or over Zoom this holiday season, family conflict can always be a particular stressor. As 2020 draws to a close, that might be more true this year than ever before — when even the discussion of when and how to gather or not gather can be fraught with high emotions, disagreements, criticism and defensiveness. Everyone has their own expectations for family holidays, and when those aren’t met — combined with the trauma we’re all experiencing this year — it can easily lead to some of the ‘horsemen of the relational apocalypse,’ particularly Defensiveness and Criticism.
So many of us have family drama, stress, or conflict every year, and it’s often largely because of those two pesky horsemen. So this year, try something new.
If you find yourself thinking — or worse yet, saying — critical, disparaging things, or becoming defensive, take a break. Leave the room if you have to, but at the very least just pause. Breathe. Give yourself space.
When you’re ready to respond, use the soft start-up language: “I feel (describe your emotions) when (describe the action or situation). Now, I need (clearly state what you’d like from the other person).”
Using this language can have profound effects on lowering defensiveness across the board, and can often bring the conversation to a much more peaceful place within moments. It’s hard, especially when you feel flooded or angry. That’s why that break at the beginning is so crucial.
If you’re at the other end of the critical comment, see if you can take any responsibility for any part of the complaint — then use the above softened start up language to continue.
It’s the best recipe you’ll use for a truly successful holiday gathering!