7 Skills to Avoid Family Drama

by | Nov 23, 2016 | Resent post | 0 comments

Home for the Holidays: 7 Skills to Avoid Family Drama

Do your visions of the upcoming holiday season with your family conjure scenes from National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation or does your mind venture into the dark terrain of Bad Santa? Does the phrase “home for the holidays” fill you with feelings of anticipation and excitement or the urge to set aside cash for an early departure change fee?

Ah, the holidays. How we love the food, the presents, the festivities. How we look forward to time off work. How we dread the inevitable family drama!

For most of us the fantasy of the ideal family portrait, bubbling over with a joyous and warm celebration, often clashes with bristling memories of past blow-outs, deep hurts and disappointment. Yet somehow each year we return with the feint hope that our family conflict will have evaporated, magically mellowing over time. Or, maybe, we can hope that an alien spaceship has abducted our family and replaced them with vacuous yet harmless cloned stand-ins.

If the alien abduction is not an option, however, you may want to consider a few proactive tools as you approach the impending holiday season. Although you can’t pick your family you can pick your point of view – or more specifically your role in the family drama.

Narratives: The Roles People Play

Our identities and perceptions about ourselves and others are formed by narratives. Narratives are stories we believe about ourselves or that others impose upon us be it our family or society at large. And, it is these narratives that effect our relationships and how we life.

Narratives take shape early in life as certain beliefs and events are determined to be important or true. These stories are further validated as we select only certain information while ignoring other events and truths, thus reinforcing one story over another. Subsequently, we adopt this story as our narrative and “play the part” accordingly. These narratives can be either inspiring or oppressive.

The Family Story

The same holds true in families which will have stories about the family as a whole as well as each individual member. Some of these stories can have a positive effect on us, others negative. However, all stories will dominate our beliefs, ideas, and play a large part in the how we see ourselves, approach relationships and live our lives.

Challenges surface when the narratives our family holds about us do not truly reflect who we are or allow us space to articulate our needs, wants and feelings. You will often hear about the golden child, the difficult child, the black sheep. These are imposed narratives and once imposed, become difficult for the labeled individual to escape.

The family unit, knowingly or unknowingly, anticipates and expects each individual to play his or her assigned role. And, like any biological organism the family unit will fight to maintain homeostasis. Change is frightening, it is uncomfortable, particularly if not all the players advocate for such change. There will be those family members who suffer withdrawal at your refusal to play your part. And, they will make desperate attempts to lure you into the performance, back to your previously agreed upon role.

The Great Escape: Stop Unhealthy Family Stories

So what do you do if the family narrative is not healthy for you?

There are simple approaches you can take to step out from underneath a unhealthy problem-saturated story – even if your family resists. This holiday season, we invite you to disengage from your historical role in the family drama, and re-author your own story, reclaiming your power.

7 Skills to Avoid the Family Drama and Re-author Your Story


Skill 1: Identify the Family Story

First and foremost, it is important to see how the family narratives or stories are being played out in your family and how they are impacting you. Once you see the truth, you can start breaking away from their influence. To do this, you:

  • Become aware of the problematic family narrative
  • Observe and describe what roles you and each family member plays in the family drama. What is your role? How are you labeled? How does it impact your life?
  • Break it’s hold on you
  • Is this narrative good or bad for you? Is it something your would like more of or less of? Are there times in your life when you are nothing like this narrative? What does this other narrative say about you as a person?
  • Define your own story
  • If you wake up tomorrow and all your family challenges were gone, how would you define your own narrative? How would you live your life? Envision how this life would feel and look.


Skill 2: Disarm Your Hot Buttons

This skill helps you identify your challenging emotions that surface during family gatherings and channel them into more productive and healthier options. Also, by learning to choose healthier emotions you will support your alternative narrative.

How To Disharm Your Hot Buttons:

  • Identify your emotional triggers
  • Write down your “Hot” emotion(s). How are they triggered?
  • Identify your negative judgments associated with these emotions. Are they rational or not?
  • What is going through your mind just before you started to feel this way? What does this say about you? What are you afraid might happen?
  • Identify alternative or positive emotions that would fit you better.
  • Beside each ‘hot” emotional trigger, write down how you would prefer to respond in a more positive way as well as a positive judgment.
  • Visualize yourself experiencing these emotions.
  • Replay the emotionally hot scene in your mind. See yourself responding in a more positive manner. Become the director of the scene, brighten up the colors, make your challenger smaller, make your voice firm but fair, and intensify the feeling of the positive emotions and judgments.


Skill 3: Use Your Breath

Use your breath to regulate challenging emotions that surface during family altercations. Breathing with intention is a powerful mindfulness technique that is designed to bring you back in the room, deescalating the emotional overwhelm. One good breathing technique is 4-square breathing.

  • Inhale deeply on a count of 4
  • Hold your breath for a count of 4
  • Release your breath on a count of 4
  • Do this 4 times

Skill 4: Practice Effective Family Communications

It is always important to continue supporting your alternative narrative. However, you may be challenged by those family members not ready for change. Therefore, in any conversation, it is always best to:

  • Take a non-judgmental stance
  • Use assertive communication techniques, rather than passive or passive-aggressive
  • Show self-respect and respect for others
  • Know your needs and share them in a clear and concise manner
  • Hold and honor each others boundaries.

Skill 5: Use Timed Time-outs

Whenever you feel a conversation getting heated and people are not listening to each other, ask for a ‘timed’ time-out. This means you:

  • Clearly agree to a time for everyone to decompress and then return to the discussion. During this break, revisit the above skills 1-4.
  • Once the time is up, return to the discussion but only if you feel calm and in control of your emotions.
  • If another timed time-out is required, agree to and take it. If you have to table the discussion to another day, do so. Just make sure the time is agreed to by all.
  • If your family won’t honor a time-out leave the scene and return only when you feel calm, in control of your emotions, and safe. If not, excuse yourself from the family gathering and, once home, revisit the above skills 1-4 and on your next visit or conversation implement


Skill 6: Healthy Repairs

More than likely you grew up in a family that didn’t teach you how to make healthy repairs. If so, making repairs is all about reaffirming and taking control of your alternative narrative in a proactive manner through:

  • Taking responsibility for your part in the communication
  • Apologizing when appropriate
  • Accepting an apology when it makes sense
  • Having the ability to let go and move on
  • Learning from the situation to avoid it in the future


Skill 7: Supporting Your New Narrative

Once you have embraced your new narrative it is important to continue strengthening it so the narrative becomes rich, textured, and the dominant, empowered story of your life. You do this, by:

  • Try out your new narrative with ‘supportive’ friends and family
  • Continue reaffirming this narrative through self-supporting actions and activities
  • Honor yourself for embracing and installing this new way of being in everything you do
  • Be gentle with yourself as you work through this positive, self-affirming process

You may not be able to heal old wounds and change the family narrative in one gathering but you can do your best to avoid the drama. By gaining a little perspective and a few tools for managing your emotions, you can enjoy holiday cheer minus the drama. More importantly, you will take your first step towards adopting a new role and a more empowering personal narrative.

Happy Holidays!