They are driving me crazy!: How to deal with Holiday Conflict with Family Members

Graphic from The Family Stone. A must-see family conflict flick!

With Thanksgiving over and family tucked safely back into their dwellings, some of you may be missing family already, while others may feel a slight sensation of relief that the whole Thanksgiving business is over….or a large sense of relief.  Not that we don’t love the holidays, (or our families) but sometimes, amongst other things, conflict between family members can cause stress and anxiety to pounce up unexpectedly.  While many of us hope for the idealistic family holiday, ala the picture of Jimmy Stewart surrounded by his family and friends at the end of It’s a Wonderful Life, we do have to remember that even in that movie this came after a lot of conflict and soul-searching (Clarence didn’t get his wings for nothing!).   Family Conflict can come from a variety of places including unspoken & unresolved family events (Thursday’s Blog) and personal symptoms of holiday depression (Psychiatrist James Cattell called this in 1955 “Holiday Syndrome.” Next Tuesday’s blog) but can also come from our past creeping up on us like Scrooge’s “Ghost of Christmas Past.” 

Family Conflict can occur between family members that are decidedly different or remarkably the same, but either way, one thing is certain, and that is that in some way, the person that we are in conflict with is touching an emotional part of us that may be raw and aches to be protected.  Do you have unresolved conflict with your dad and suddenly your brother-in-law is acting just like him? Your family was a mess and your cousin’s perfect family shows up and you can’t understand why you can’t stand them? These events are mirrors of our past that challenge us to deal with our stuff.  Sometimes even very admirable characteristics in others hit a place in us that is vulnerable and we can become confused when we don’t understand why we are having such a reaction that seems so visceral.  This can be a result of them awakening in us parts of ourselves that either feels undeserving of what another has, not accepting of a piece of ourselves, or a misunderstanding of what that person represents in our lives.  When this occurs we react as if attacked (even if no danger of attack is present) in our flight, fight or freeze reactions, basically laying us out our adrenals as if we had been punched in the stomach.  This could also come from a feeling of lack, or a thought that we could never have  for ourselves what they have and that in accepting this part in ourselves we can feel decidedly weak, inferior or more vulnerable.

We can be reflecting pools for one another and when we look across the tables at those we love, those we have struggled with; we are looking at our own teachers, our own struggles, our own path. We have particular strengths and weaknesses for a reason and examining those as an integral part of what makes us “ourselves” can help us appreciate the ones that have been put on our path with us.  It also helps us accept ourselves as we are as well. 

Questions to ask when these feelings arise:

What particular behavior of theirs is driving me crazy? (Or does their entire person represent something or someone…and who or what is that?)

Does this behavior remind me of anyone?

What have I been told about this particular behavior and by whom?

Do I have any judgments surrounding that behavior?

Is their behavior a direct cause of something I did or is this due to them going through something unbeknownst to me OR are they acting just as themselves and I have the issue with their behavior?

Oftentimes if we can find the source of why someone is actually getting on our nerves we are better able to cope.  We also can learn a bit more about ourselves and learn to examine those areas which may seem a bit vulnerable….or at any rate, enjoy the Thanksgiving stuffing and avoid flying drumsticks. 

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