None of us probably understands why some family members might choose to bring up residual hostilities that need years of therapy and analysis over the dinner table during an afternoon’s holiday visit.
What makes these occasions bring up so many urgent feelings that they must be expressed now is a mystery. Whatever the volcanic pressures are, Wild Pecos Bill conversations are one reason these occasions are dreaded instead of enjoyed.
SNL has made a successful skit out of Drunk Uncle, the perennial bull in the china shop, or rather, sitting in front of the china. But we all have some variation of the person we think we must tolerate in the name of family.
One friend has labeled them in her family. There’s the Baiter, the one who knows you are on the opposite side of the political or religious spectrum and is anxious to confront you to feel vindicated that what he knew was true after all, he is superior.
The Martyr, whose life is a sacrifice that must be acknowledged in order to preserve her status.
Then there’s the Sibling, who’s birth order trauma has never been resolved. She’s 53.
I can’t list them all here, but you have your own too well-known list.
Perhaps we can try some indifferent ways of communicating to deflate the building pressures. Here are some words and phrases that a wise counselor shared with me when I was particularly distressed by the idea of spending a few hours with relatives.
Brilliant in its simplicity. Said without sarcasm or rancor. A bland one word response, no matter how ridiculous the statement is that has been shared.
- “I had never heard that.”
You may mean, “Who would say such a thing?” But this way will not lead you down the path you don’t want to go.
- “How interesting.” Also expressed in a neutral tone.
At this point, you may have to become a little more obvious, but you can still keep it disengaged.
- “I see it differently.” Then change the subject.
- “I really don’t want to talk about that right now.” Change the subject.
- “Excuse me. I need to call….”.
And, if all else fails, count to 7 and say, “It was great to see you again.” And move away.