Published on December 29, 2021 Updated on January 20, 2022
The winter holidays are supposed to bring peace on earth and goodwill to all, especially those we love. Yet, as much as we cherish our family members, our relationships with them are not always easy. Interpersonal conflicts are natural and normal for every family. Still, having an insecure attachment might further complicate the social dynamics.
To inspire and encourage you to make the best of this year’s holidays, in this blog post, we’ll share with you:
Interpersonal conflicts are a normal part of all family dynamics. However, the seasonal increase in alcohol intake, food consumption, and forced togetherness around Christmas and New Year’s Eve can cause irritation, hurt, and potentially even major blow-ups.
What’s more, approximately one-third of the world’s population has an insecure attachment style. Insecure attachers typically grew up with insecurely attached caregiver(s), and thus, likely witnessed poor communication and conflict resolution strategies.
As a result, insecure attachers are prone to being under-expressive. They, therefore, may not be able to adequately express their concerns or frustrations either before or during a family conflict. This collective lack of ability to effectively communicate wants and needs can lead to stress and upset. It may even ruin the festive atmosphere for all involved.
Secure individuals have had a long history of positive caregiver interactions. As a result, they are more expressive and able to communicate their needs. Skills such as these can potentially mitigate interpersonal conflict before it arises. Also, if a secure attacher cannot stop a conflict in its tracks, they can prevent it from spiraling into a major blow-up by communicating effectively. Interestingly, anxious individuals have been found to be as expressive as secure. However, they have also been found to be less composed than secure attachers. So, perhaps their manner of expression is less balanced and may add fuel to the fire of a potential conflict.
A secure attacher is not typically aware of their conflict-diffusing superpowers. However, psychologists and researchers are. This means that the necessary information is available for an insecure attacher to model their behavior on. Thus, this year, you can become a pro at managing interpersonal conflict – even if you are insecurely attached.
Bear in mind: Doing your best to create a peaceful atmosphere and mitigate interpersonal conflict should not compromise your health and well-being. For this reason, should the following strategies not work because of confounding circumstances, we have provided further actions that you could take to protect your well-being this Christmas.
There might be pre-existing interpersonal conflicts with certain family members. Use your best judgment to determine whether it would be beneficial to discuss such issues ahead of the festive season. However, be mindful that if this is a long-standing issue that creates extra tension whenever it is discussed, bringing it up again may make the situation worse.
Sometimes, our previous negative experiences can pre-determine us to have a bad mood over the holidays. Nevertheless, try not to go into Christmas expecting conflict. It’s possible to program ourselves to be positive over the festive season. Thus, even if you haven’t always had the best experiences over Christmas in the past, aim to go into it with a positive attitude. Otherwise, our preconceptions of how people will behave can influence how we act around them, perpetuate discord, and possibly even inadvertently result in that outcome. If you go into the holidays expecting to have a good time, then you’re more likely to do so.
No family is perfect. Even though you might adopt the most positive attitude possible, it is still conceivable for conflicts to arise. Try to accept your family for who they are – their dysfunctions and foibles included. This might mean focusing on their positive attributes rather than their negative ones. It might even help to make a list of your family members’ good points before you go home for the holidays.
Even though we can mentally prepare ourselves for conflict and prevent our attachment styles from being triggered ahead of the holidays, unfortunately, we cannot control the behaviors of those around us. Thus, conflicts might still arise, and they can quickly escalate unless they’re controlled.
Accepting your family for who they are comes hand in hand with understanding their foibles. It is possible that certain members will irritate you, or potentially even anger you or trigger your insecure attachment traits. When issues do arise, ask yourself whether this interpersonal conflict is worth pursuing. Maybe, it is something that you can manage internally by taking a moment to yourself, practicing mindful breathing, and choosing forgiveness.
Your language, tone, and body language all matter when communicating with your family members. During an interpersonal conflict, aim to avoid sarcasm, insults, or accusations to avoid escalating the situation. Instead, pursue clear and concise statements that cannot be misinterpreted.
For example: Instead of saying, “You never listen to me when I speak,” try: “I understand that you were making a point, but I would like to contribute to that.”
Aim to understand what the other person is feeling – secure attachers have high emotional intelligence and therefore can understand other people’s emotions and feelings. Empathy is an essential skill in conflict resolution. This is because it implies being able to interpret the other person’s feelings without provoking them further.
When a family member attempts to communicate their issues to you, actively listen to them. Don’t just wait for your turn to speak and don’t shout over them. Active listening means paying attention to what they’re saying and taking note of how they phrase themselves. This way, you can demonstrate that you’re listening by using a similar word pattern back to them.
Do your best not to let your emotions play a role in how you communicate during an interpersonal conflict. This level of restraint may be challenging for an anxious or disorganized attacher. But try to remember that you’re modeling how a secure attacher would respond in a similar situation. What’s more, allowing your emotions to dominate an argument means that your judgment may be clouded. And you might end up just reacting instead of listening to the other person. Using the above active listening skill along with some breathing techniques may help you remain emotionally balanced.
If you allow yourself to see that the other person is a flawed individual (just like everyone else), you will likely be more capable of viewing them with empathy rather than anger. Practice internal phrases to use during a conflict, such as:
As Mahatma Gandi once said: “An eye for an eye will only make the whole world blind.”
Everyone has their own opinions and beliefs, and sometimes you can’t force someone to see yours. It’s important to understand that agreeing to disagree is often the best way to resolve conflicts. To do this, you could attempt to devise as many solutions to the problem as you can think of. Thus, all involved in such interpersonal conflicts can settle on a resolution that is satisfactory to everyone.
Unfortunately, even if you follow all of the above tips, certain people may still create conflict. And there’s very little you do can stop them. Accepting your family for who they are does not mean compromising your health, happiness, and well-being. Suppose you find yourself involved in a situation that is overly triggering and distressing. In that case, the following actions may help you to protect your well-being and mental health:
The most important thing to remember is that your well-being comes before any festive gatherings. Therefore, before you go home for the holiday season, write down a detailed escape plan for removing yourself from a distressing situation. Making an escape plan doesn’t mean that you are entering the season with a negative attitude. Instead, it means you’re aware that you can’t control the actions of other people. Should someone’s behavior trigger your attachment style, you can enact your plan.
Your escape plan should include things like: places you can go, trusted people that you can contact, soothing activities that you can do, and self-care actions to make you feel better.
Chances are, if you are insecurely attached, then you might have seen the warning signs of someone instigating or perpetuating conflict in the past. Without allowing yourself to dive into the associated feelings, try to remember the warning signs of interpersonal conflicts. This way, you can keep an eye out for them this holiday season. Recognizing noxious behavior for what it is will allow you to take the following steps before a major conflict develops.
Once you start to see the warning behaviors of someone losing control, encroaching too much on your boundaries, or becoming aggressive, it’s critical that you set your personal parameters immediately. Doing so might mean assertively but calmly saying things such as:
“Raising your voice like that makes me anxious. If you lower your tone, I would be happy to continue this conversation.” / “Saying things such as that hurts me. If you continue to do so, I will need to leave.”
Furthermore, you should carry through with enacting your boundaries or escape plan unless people actually listen to your needs and act accordingly. Only when they change their actions should you lower your boundaries.
Just because you’re with family doesn’t mean that you’re always safe. Excessive drinking, divisive behavior, or physical or emotional abuse should not be tolerated. If you find yourself in such situations, it is important to remove yourself from them and enact your escape plan.
Occasional conflict is a part of every family and relationship, especially if you have an insecure attachment style. However, you can prepare yourself for interpersonal conflicts by modeling the actions of a secure attacher. This way, you can diffuse tension before it gets out of hand.
If you need more tips on how to make the best out of this year’s winter holidays, check out our blog posts:
If you don’t yet know your attachment style, take our free quiz and receive your attachment report right away!