Over the years, I have written many blogs about the stresses of holidays. Divorce, illness, a death, and unemployment are some of the issues that can cast a terrible pall over the holiday get togethers. Personal issues such as concerns about over-indulging in spending, eating, drinking may add to the stress many face when attending family celebrations.
This year, all of those stresses continue to exist, but for the first time in many years, the turkey may be overshadowed by the elephant is the room: this recent presidential election.
It is not unusual for family members to hold different political views. Many families have found themselves politically divided and while these conversations have often been a part of family dinners, the divisiveness and polarizing opinions of this particular election keep many from being able to engage in these highly flammable issues without explosions.
Some families have simply decided politics is off the table this Thanksgiving and that may work. But it is not unusual for tipsy Uncle Bob or niece Susan, the poly sci major, to toss a match on the anxiety and concerns that simmer just below the surface.
How to keep the fire from raging out of hand and to avoid permanent chasms in the family?
- Before the get together, take a moment to reflect and remember what you value in each of the dinner guests. Find one good thing (maybe more) that you like about each person and focus on that. It can be as simply as “Well, I like her sweet potato recipe”, or, “He has a great sense of humor”. When we touch base with the gratitude we feel for each person, than we decrease our combative attitude. This helps us approach the other with a calm and more detached perspective.
- “The course of conflict is not determined by the one who initiates it, but the one who responds”. When we remember that our response holds all this power, then we no longer have to feel attacked or vulnerable. We can deescalate the situation, based on how we choose to respond.
- In this political season, it has been a game of “Whose candidate was worse?” Try to avoid a comeback that attacks the other person’s choice. Then we devolve into young kids, having one of those circular arguments like “She started it” or “He did it first.” Nothing is accomplished except hurt feelings. Elevate the conversation by steering clear of one upsmanship.
- When we are thinking about our response, we stop really listening. Furthermore, when things get heated, our adrenaline kicks in and while we “hear” we don’t really listen. Try staying focused on the person’s words while allowing yourself to remember what you hold dear about them. If we are really honest, we already know our relatives pretty well and our shock over the way they voted isn’t really shock but disappointment.
- Lastly, it is important to remember that winning isn’t the goal. You are there to find connection with family and friends that go beyond politics. You aren’t going to change anyone else’s mind over pumpkin pie, any more than they will be able to change yours. Let it go.
The goal is to enjoy the fullness of family, friends and good food. Make sure your doggy bag only contains yummy left overs and not a big heaping of resentment.
© 2016 Donna F. Ferber, LPC, LADC is a psychotherapist in private practice in Farmington, CT since 1986. She has a special interest in working with people dealing with life transitions. She is the author of the award winning From Ex-Wife to Exceptional Life: A Woman’s Journey through Divorce which is available in Kindle format for $9.99 as well as in paperback. She doesn’t eat turkey, ever.