A time for family, friends, and…maybe a therapist?

gratitude habits Nov 21, 2021
Life Success Academy and Sarah Pipher Holiday Time


  • Remember why we all gather together – to share our stories, build traditions and to count our blessings.
  • People want to be heard and they need connection. Listen and get curious.
  • Remember: what they say is about them; what you hear is about you.
  • Don’t let their personal saboteurs trigger yours.

A time for family, friends, and…maybe a therapist?

A friend confessed she was not eagerly awaiting her traditional Thanksgiving gathering this year, where her extended family comes together for a full day of turkey and the trimmings, football, and family conversations. Last year, everyone was apart and did their own thing, but they have found themselves divided by Covid and politics over the past year. “Oh,” she says, “each year I feel like I have to tread lightly on certain topics, but this year?! There are so many ways this could go wrong.”

While not everyone around the world celebrates Thanksgiving Day, many of us haven’t seen our extended family in almost two years, and soon we’ll be gathering for the holidays. When families gather, emotions can run high. Even grown adults can revert to their inner child and recall years-old slights and abandonments. But the holidays are about getting together, sharing stories, and creating traditions. Rather than focusing on tensions, we could focus on what brings us together because relationships are the gateway to happiness. And, dare I say, we all want more happiness in our lives.

So, what can we do when we’re in an uncomfortable situation? Typically, it’s a fight, flight, or freeze situation, right? 

With a little forethought, we can avert these disasters.

Listen and get curious. What can we do when Uncle Bill starts spewing about the latest controversial political subject? Or Aunt Milly starts teasing about that truly long-forgotten-but-hugely-embarrassing incident that occurred 10 years ago? Simply, and politely, listen. Ask questions that demonstrate you’re truly interested. Then, when an opportunity presents itself, choose to stay, or move on to another conversation.

Most often people just want to be heard. Maybe they’re trying to find a way into a conversation, but it’s less likely that they’re actually trying to be problematic. Even cantankerous grandpa wants a little love and attention. You don’t have to agree with him, but let him be heard. Many people have experienced isolation, maybe even beyond what we have experienced, and they may feel angry, alone, or confused. But rather than trying to interrupt or quiet them, get curious. Why would they feel it’s necessary to bring up a taboo or inappropriate topic? Is there another topic that would be more engaging that the rest of the family might enjoy?

Ask questions to show that you do understand. You can, of course, ask questions that slowly redirect the conversation to another topic.

Add levity. Add a little humor to diffuse the situation.

Reframe the conversation. Shift the conversation’s focus to something more positive.

Excuse yourself. When you can’t find a suitable topic to discuss, politely move on to another person.

If someone does upset you, don’t take it personally. Remember the adage that goes something like: “What people say is about them. What you hear is about you”? 

Get curious. What is their dialog saying about them? And what are you “hearing” and why is it triggering you?

Don’t let their personal saboteurs trigger yours. Their inner judge, and our own, are responsible for those negative feelings of guilt, regret, shame, and disappointment. When that someone does or says something that triggers you, take a deep breath and engage your inner sage, that inner wisdom that allows us to step outside the experience, to not react, but remain calm.

If you are already anticipating a contentious scenario, mentally practice your response in advance. Like a batter mentally practicing his swing before the big game, you can practice your ideal reply.

When families gather, particularly after time apart, emotions can be easily triggered. But let’s not forget what we’re celebrating. Thanksgiving is about counting our blessings, sharing stories and traditions, and coming together as a family, and it is important that we don’t forget that!

And when family flare-ups do occur, we can be our own best therapists.


Sarah Pipher

Positive Psychology Master Coach, Cohort 2

dōTERRA Certified Essential Oil Expert

[email protected]

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