No matter how much you love your family, there’s always that one family member with whom you consistently disagree. Maybe it’s your Aunt Martha, who consistently harps on your weight or your marital status, or maybe it’s your Grandpa Joe – whose inflammatory religious or political views take center stage at every family get-together.
But while you can’t change your family, you can change the way you behave and the impact you allow their words to have on your mental well-being. To learn how to quickly and effectively diffuse these family tensions and improve the quality of your get-togethers, consider the following techniques:
Technique #1 – Identify and avoid triggering behaviors
In most cases, negative family interactions are triggered by specific sayings or behaviors. By identifying these connections and taking steps to avoid the triggering behaviors in the first place, it is possible to eliminate family tensions altogether.
As an example, if you notice that bringing up your government job is the trigger that launches your Grandpa Joe into a tirade about the overreach of big government and the current administration, you can choose to avoid this topic of conversation entirely. Alternatively, if you notice that your Aunt Martha uses comments on her own expanding waistline to transition to attacking your current size, try changing the subject before the conversation rolls back around to you.
Obviously, avoiding triggering behaviors and topics isn’t a totally ideal solution, as this may mean keeping parts of your life from the people who claim to love you most. However, if your family get-togethers escalate to the point where the tension of arguing over heated subjects is worse than the effort of keeping elements of your life private, you may find this approach to be the lesser of two evils.
Technique #2 – Choose to release your anger
Of course, in some situations, it may not be possible to identify or avoid triggering behaviors. For example, if you have a relative who’s proficient at turning even the most innocuous comments into perceived accusations, it may be impossible to isolate and avoid the specific topics that will lead to family tension.
In these cases, it’s up to you to choose to release your anger in a healthy way, instead of allowing it to dictate the experiences you have with your family. Just because family tensions have occurred doesn’t mean that you need to internalize them to the point where they affect your own judgment and the love you have for your family members.
However, in order to release your anger and approach tense situations from a more mature perspective, it’s vital that you remove yourself from the frustrating encounters until you can cool down. When you feel yourself getting flustered, excuse yourself politely and take a walk, retire to another room or simply sit in your car for a few minutes. Giving yourself space to breathe and work through the emotions you’re feeling – instead of taking your stress out on your family members – will make it much easier to release your anger before things boil over.
Technique #3 – Replace an angry mindset with positive ones
Another technique that’s vital to managing family tensions in a healthy, mature way is learning to replace your angry emotions with a positive mindset. Remember – you are the one who’s in control of your thoughts and emotions. Although your family members may influence these things with their own behaviors, it is ultimately up to you to choose how you deal with frustrating situations.
To learn how to swap out angry feelings with more positive ones – which will enable you to minimize tensions and protect your own mental health and well-being – try an anchoring technique that allows you to associate a positive set of feelings and emotions with a specific color, mental image or physical action.
Begin by calling up a memory when you felt peaceful, positive and in control of your emotions. Your goal should be to find a memory that represents the way you want to feel when handling family tensions – so whether that’s assertive, cool, collected or some other emotion, make sure the memory you call up is a strong one that helps you to relive your desired state of mind.
As you allow this memory to fill you up, begin pairing it with a specific “anchor.” This could be a physical action you take (for example, squeezing your thumb) or a mental image you create (a specific color or symbol works best here) – either way, the important thing is that you begin to call up this arbitrary signal alongside your desired mental state.
Practice calling up your chosen memory, pairing it with your specific symbol and then releasing both mental images. Over time – and with consistent practice – simply visualizing your anchor symbol should be enough to subconsciously promote the positive feeling you desire. Once the association is strong, firing off your anchor behavior in the face of family tensions will allow you to eliminate negative emotions and replace them with positive feelings that allow you to handle frustrating situations in a healthy way.