A family shares an outdoor meal.

Have the Best Holiday Ever by Managing Conflict

Thanksgiving can be a bit of an emotional mess. And so can Christmas. In fact, any time your family gets together there is the possibility for a replay of years’ worth of problems and concerns.

This year many of us got a reprieve of sorts. The COVID quarantine allowed a lot of us to experience Thanksgiving without the stress of staying at home with your parents and siblings and problematic satellite members of your family.

But the week or two that follow Thanksgiving or other holidays can play a big part in how you remember and recover from each family gathering.

Here are some tips to make the next couple of weeks familial without being disturbingly familiar.


Know Your Role – Then Defy It

An unfortunate part of growing up in a household – or any group – is that we come to play a certain role in that space. 

Were you the youngest? You likely adopted the role of the attention-seeking pleaser.

Were you the oldest? You probably can’t help but feel responsible for everyone in your family, including your parents.

We know that birth order helps shape some part of your personality.

But factors other than that can play a major part in defining your role. Were you an athlete? A high performer? Did you get in trouble at school? 

All of these things changed how others reacted to you at the time. They shaped you.

But they don’t have to define you.

Identify those characteristics by noting others’ labels.

Do your relatives say that you “always” or “never” do a thing? Make a plan to break that stereotype at your next family gathering.

A family shares an outdoor meal.
Family gatherings bring up old feelings and old wounds. Photo by Askar Abayev from Pexels


Identify your fear – then plan around it

What are you most afraid of about your time with your family? 

Is there an uncle who always draws you into confrontational political discussion? A sibling who wants to rehash a childhood trauma and why they blame you? The intolerable relative who wants to meet again before Christmas?

You need a plan to handle that expected event.

Use your journal to write down how that event has gone down in the past. 

Then re-write it. When the question comes, how will you handle it? Put yourself in the situation and write yourself out of it.

Then do that again.

Which way works the best? How do you save face without losing the parts of you that are the most important to you?

Now memorize key lines in your response.

And now you are ready to handle the situation.


Bring friends

A great way to break out of annoying roles, and to remember to stand up for yourself, is to have someone at your side who sees you differently. Bring a close friend and trusted ally with you to help defuse this volatile situation.

This way, when someone starts to put you in an old role your friend can step in.

This requires some of the same preparation as before. Play out the scenario with your friend. Tell her what to expect – what the lines sound like, and how the play goes. Then ask them to help.

Your friend might have great ideas for how to handle the situation. Be open to different ideas for managing the situation.

Then invite your friend along. No need to invent a fancy, contrived explanation for why they are coming with you. Just bring them.


Avoid Alcohol and Other Triggers

Of course, all of these situations are made worse by alcohol. It dulls our senses, weakens our defenses, reduces inhibitions, and harms our ability to respond effectively to these problematic situations.

Alcohol is a common Thanksgiving crutch, and is used at other times when people want to ignore problematic family situations. But choosing to involve alcohol is deciding to fall back into familiar roles. It is a concession.

Invest energy up front to make sure you end up in a situation that is free from alcohol. You need to make sure it is out of the question. Meet at a restaurant, not a bar, for instance. And meet for lunch instead of dinner. It’s best to choose someplace that doesn’t serve alcohol at all.


By taking these simple steps, you can help to avoid the uncomfortable post-Thanksgiving situations that happen in many families. This will help you get emotionally ready for Christmas. 

Struggling with family? Looking for an outlet for the stress of the holidays? You likely will benefit from talking to a licensed therapist like Sakina Issa.

Contact Sakina today.

Luckily, these conversations can happen discreetly and by appointment using the same tools you have grown comfortable using at work, like Zoom or GoToMeeting. Just click the button in the upper right hand corner.

Want to learn more about parenting or managing tricky sibling relations? Maybe you are working out a new set of goals for yourself?

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