Collateral Damage

trauma-3485235_640Photo by Anemone123. Courtesy of Pixabay.

When our defense department is planning an operation, many areas are evaluated. Among them are cost, number of assets needed, and last but not least, collateral damage. When we hear the words collateral damage spoken by the defense or intelligence communities, we know it is government-speak for casualties. Defense operations are not the only place where collateral damage happens.

This past week, I have heard several people talking about the approaching  holidays. When they share their dread and anxiety about inviting their relatives, they talk about what might happen if certain people come to their gatherings. Some of their relatives are known for sharing gossip, unforgiveness i.e. reminding them of past mistakes, and dropping emotional bombs when the extended family is present. When our relatives engage in this kind of behavior, they create a lot of collateral damage.  Rather than let this kind of behavior continue indefinitely, it might be worthwhile to spend time in prayer and contemplation in order to come up with ways to deal with our problem relatives in a more effective fashion. 

Are there practical ways we can deal with this kind of destructive behavior or do we even need to? First, we must ask ourselves if we need to invite them to the gathering at all? Perhaps if they were uninvited for a few holidays, they might begin to question themselves. When they call and ask why they were not invited, we can politely tell them we are downsizing our celebrations for the time being. If you think it is wise, you could share the reason they were not invited. 

Second, if they must be invited for the sake of family unity, how can we be proactive and prepare for their arrival? We can evaluate what seems to trigger their outbursts and be prepared to de-escalate and redirect the conversation when a hot topic is introduced. We can also evaluate the level of alcohol consumption that will be allowed. It might be wise to have an alcohol-free gathering if alcohol seems to loosen tongues that otherwise might be kept in check.

Third, we need to make sure we are not part of the problem. Do we have firm boundaries set up in our homes so that those invited know they are NOT allowed to criticize others when they are there? Can we stand up to the family bullies and let them know their behavior will not be tolerated? When we are setting up firm boundaries for the first time, it is only fair to let the offending parties know the rules several days in advance so that they can prepare themselves to be on their best behavior. If they then cross the lines, we can remind them of the “new rules” for family gatherings. 

The holidays can be brutal for some, depending on their relatives. We do not have to be victims and at the mercy of our relatives if they are toxic for us and our family.  Remember, our homes are not war zones and they do not have the right to cause collateral damage when they come to visit!