Dreading seeing certain relatives over Thanksgiving? Contemplating canceling all together? “So sorry Aunt Marge I can’t make it this year, must have caught that nasty stomach virus that’s been going around. Yeah, you know the election brutalias virus, where at the slightest mention of or boasting about the candidate that I didn’t vote for, I become nauseous, enraged and at high risk for slinging mashed potatoes across the room. Yeah that one, lasts about 4 years. So sorry, so see you in 2020. Happy Thanksgiving!!”
It’s not uncommon to feel some hesitation about seeing certain relatives during the holidays. And usually we find ourselves counseling our clients on how to manage relations with pesky, peculiar, perturbing or just plain prickly relatives this time of year. But this year is way different.
With so much post-election tension still stirring strongly in the air, these hot, charged and reactive emotions are leaving many people feeling averse to and even repulsed at the thought of seeing certain relatives this Thanksgiving and flat out cancelling their plans. Before you are quick to cancel, remember the adage by Ben Franklin, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure:
- Establish Game Rules: If you know for certain you and your relatives hold opposing views, establish some rules of engagement ahead of time which center around recognition of differences of opinions and beliefs as valid for the believers, mutual respect that you are each entitled to those beliefs and that its best to leave them off the docket of topics to be discussed if they feel too charged to address.
- Practice Active Listening: Alternatively, if you do intend to discuss politics, agree to do so without the intention to change one another’s mind and agree to offer one another a “fair hearing.” In other words, agree to offer each person the chance to share their feelings about the situation and practice active listening.
- All the worlds a stage and all the men and women merely players: Enter the situation with the mindset that you are coming to a movie or play as if you are the viewer among the actors. See if you can observe and look on at the others in their “roles” and stay loosely engaged. Although many of the “actors” in this show may evoke emotions in you, if you step into the situation initially with this observing stance, you may be less inclined to get swept up in the tensions that could follow.
- Be clear about your limits: While many people are still licking their wounds post-election or feeling fired up to create change, many people are frankly insensitive and tired of hearing aboutit or just acting mean. If you know for sure that the Thanksgiving family environment will be an unsupportive or unsafe one to enter, then don’t go. Or, if you feel you must go for the “sake of the family” (read, feeling guilted into going which is an entirely other topic for discussion) then plot out the time carefully. Be the last to arrive and the first to leave, designate “safe” members of the family to converse with or avail yourself to clean-up work, can also refer to the previous tip.
- Watch how much you imbibe. One too many glasses of wine or hot toddies and you’re bound to let all sorts of things roll off your tongue, some of which may not be the most savory things to say. Although it may be tempting to “drink” the day away, make sure you are pacing yourself and drink plenty of water. Alternatively, if confronted by a relative who over-indulged, steer clear and take whatever emerges from their mouth with a grain of salt and do not engage.
- Breathe and Breathe again: If you find yourself feeling poked or prodded and triggered by the relatives, first and foremost breathe! Breathe and count to yourself 1-2-3-4-5 or more before offering any kind of response. Breathe for however long you need and you can always excuse yourself calmly from a charged situation.
- Sometimes suppression works: I’m a therapist, I’m all for expressing your true feelings, but in a way that can be productive, non-harmful and helpful. Suppression is one of those looked down defensive coping methods, yet we have it available to us for a reason. There are certain situations in which voicing what you feel is imperative and useful, and others when it just seems to land in a garbage dump and just make matters worse for all. The bottom line, choose your words carefully and in way that you can walk away from the interactions feeling satisfied with the way you handled yourself and that caused the least amount of harm.