By Dr. JoAnne Barge
With the Thanksgiving holiday right around the corner, we start the slow methodical progression toward what is, for many, the most stressful time of the year: The Holidays.
Families will be together, in the pressure-cooker of close quarters, and while the proximity has the intended goal of a renewed sense of connection, it unfortunately often ends up with the question of why we put ourselves through the ringer year after year.
Dr. Joanne Barge, a licensed Psychologist based in Los Angeles CA has some tips on how families can better cope with arguments over everything from who the better cook is to which football game to watch; arguments which really are more about underlying tension than the topic at hand.
“Much of the reason we have difficulty with family members stems from a deep-seeded desire to be seen & understood for who we are. When we want to be heard and this doesn’t happen, we feel hurt, rejected and anxious which can easily turn into anger,” explains Dr. Barge.
One of the ways this can manifest is in an argument about who is right. Nothing can be more sabotaging than the need to be right! It is a good idea to ask yourself rather you would prefer to be happy or right? If you want to be happy & enjoy your holiday, forget right, perceptions usually differ & right has nothing to do with anything except ego.
Dr. Barge says, “The key is to let go, find ways to validate yourself beforehand & expect to deal with differing points of view.”
- Set realistic expectations: The dynamic in any family system has a long history and likely will not change on this one day. Don’t expect it to. And don’t expect the aunt who always says something nasty to be nice this year.
- Set boundaries: If Uncle Sal usually gets to his third gin and tonic by 2 p.m. and by 3 p.m. the train is coming off the rails, plan to leave at the first sign things are getting out of control.
- Practice a ‘change of perspective’, try to detach with love i.e., Care about your loved ones but detach yourself from the things that bother you so much!
- Do not attempt to ‘control’ the interaction: Dysfunctional family members view this as a rationale to act even more abusive because you’ve just signaled that you are in the ring and ready to rumble!
- Practice staying in touch with your own inner source of ‘power’: Sometimes all it takes is a trip to the bathroom to take a deep breathe and remind yourself of a few select quotes that calm you down. Give yourself permission to feel what you feel, but avoid reacting. Don’t jump into the ring (if there is one) but instead decide to look for the best in others.
- Practice active listening: Focus on what the other person has to say, don’t interrupt, show interest and don’t give advice unless you are asked for it. If all else fails and someone is telling you you’re the worst Yahtzee player that ever lived, a simple response of “you may be right” will diffuse the situation and then you can exit the activity without having to dump the iced tea pitcher on their head!
- Finally, try to bring the attitude & spirit with you that you would like to see in others & just maybe it will catch fire.
Dr. JoAnne Barge obtained her PhD in Psychology from the University of California Los Angeles and is licensed as both a Psychologist and as a Marriage and Family Therapist. She specializes in the treatment of addictions and in the family members of addicts and alcoholics. Dr. Barge also provides specialized treatment for depression, anxiety, panic disorders, marital or relationship problems, family of origin conflicts and attachment and loss. Her private practice is located in Brentwood, Los Angeles.