It’s common for families to fall back into old patterns when they come together to celebrate Christmas, whether that’s avoiding confrontation or pushing each other’s buttons. (Maggie Morrill/Pixabay)

Plan ahead to avoid family fights at Christmas, says clinical psychologist

Reflect and set boundaries before things get heated

Christmas is a time where families come together to celebrate, but it can also see families fall back into old patterns resulting in annoying or toxic family fights.

Clinical psychologist and Professor of Psychology at the University of Victoria Catherine Costigan has suggestions on how to avoid irritating or potentially harmful blow-ups. She said if your family has a history of fighting, it’s likely this Christmas will be no different, and if you’re a family that avoids conflict it’s likely that pattern will continue.

“Patterns for families stay relatively stable, whether it’s a good pattern or a bad one,” Costigan said. “Your buttons tend to get pushed the same way they did when you were young. Unless someone commits to doing something differently, [Christmas] will probably be the same.”

She said it’s important to know the difference between toxic confrontations and annoying arguments. “It’s toxic if it cuts to the core of who you are as a person, if it’s undermining your confidence as opposed to someone just being argumentative, if the conflict stays with you for days, or if the person’s intentions are to harm you,” Costigan said. “Sometimes a family member is just hurting so much and they lash out. People have different capacities for being around that.”

Costigan said the key for people dealing with both toxic and non-toxic family interactions over Christmas is taking some time to reflect before heading out to family Christmas and having a plan already in place. She said if just one family member makes a commitment to themselves to do something differently, it can impact the rest of the family’s behavior too. “It’s about a little reflection on where things blow up, what am I doing, and how can I do something differently,” Costigan said. She said to think of three things you can do differently within yourself.

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“Consider not drinking around your family if it’s been an issue in the past,” she said. If you have toxic relationships with your family, she said it’s about knowing your boundaries and having an out if you need one. “Take a walk around the block, phone a friend or watch TV if it gets toxic,” Costigan suggested. “Set your limits and have a plan. The only thing you have control over is yourself, how you behave, and how long you stay.”

sophie.heizer@saanichnews.com

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