Mental Health & the Family

Family can be an incredible support system for our mental health, but conflicts between family members can be quite common due to varying beliefs and personalities. So here are some suggestions on how to resolve or avoid family conflict:

Resolve conflict as soon as possible so it does not lead to prolonged feelings of anger, resentment or hurt which may lead some people to aggression and violence. It can also lead to damaged relationships and stress.

Understand that occasional conflict is part of family life as family members have different views and personalities.

Before reacting, accept that we all can have different beliefs or opinions and have different personalities, that is what makes this life so interesting. Strategies to accept others and develop empathy are:

  • Stop trying to control the feelings of other family members by making them see things your way. Let them feel feelings their own way without enforcing to see situations through your eyes.
  • Allow other family members to be different with their own unique characteristics and qualities. If you feel uncomfortable with these differences try to be more open minded and accepting, challenge yourself to get to know them better. Do not try to change, avoid or ignore them.
  • Do not be quick to judge family members and point out their flaws but try to concentrate on their strengths.
  • Try not to compare family members as it is impossible to be the best, we all have flaws.
  • Understand that it is impossible for you to know everything, the best approach, the best advice, the whole story. You never fully know why a family member reacts in a particular way.
  • Try to understand instead of reacting. Put your emotions aside and ask thoughtful questions in order to try to understand why a family member acts a certain way, reacts or possesses a particular opinion.

Develop active listening skills, which means not just hearing every word other family member says but trying to understand the meaning and purpose of what he/she said. This way it will be more possible to avoid misunderstandings and jumping to the wrong conclusions therefore avoiding conflict.

  • Give full attention to family member by ignoring distractions, avoiding daydreaming and turning off your internal monologue.
  • Maintain comfortable eye contact which will show that you are giving them your full attention
  • Show interest by asking open-ended questions which will encourage detailed responses.
  • Notice and use non-verbal signs. Use open, non-threatening body language (not folding your arms, smiling, leaning in, nodding).
  • Interpret and reflect back what has been said. This will show that you captured their ideas, thoughts and emotions correctly.
  • Be patient by listening to understand rather than to respond.
  • Keep judgement to yourself so they do not feel shamed, criticised or blamed.
  • Do not interrupt the other family member while he/she is speaking.

Key to solving conflict is to agree to negotiate which can be done by:

  • Calm down before searching for peaceful resolution as our first angry impulse is to prove that we are right and try to win an argument which makes conflict resolution very hard or even impossible. Do this by saying ‘’I need to think this through by myself.’’, go to a different room and do something relaxing or just breathe in for 4 seconds, then hold the breath for 7 seconds and exhale for 8 seconds several times. Then think through the argument. Then go to a family member when you feel more calm.
  • Think through if the issue is worth fighting over.
  • Try to separate the problem from the person.
  • Remember that the purpose is to resolve the conflict, not to win the argument.
  • Define the problem and stick to the topic without suddenly remembering and using arguments from other unresolved conflicts.
  • Keep in mind that other family member is not obliged to always agree with you on everything.
  • Respect the other person’s point of view by giving your full attention and listening.
  • Talk effectively, clearly and logically.
  • Agree to disagree with family member.
  • Try to find compromise.

Lastly work as a team:

  • Brainstorm as many possible solutions as you can.
  • Be ready and willing to compromise.
  • Confirm that everyone clearly understands the decided solution.
  • As soon as a solution is decided on, stick to it.
  • If you cannot solve conflict between yourselves, seek professional help.

Now we understand how to best solve conflict but what about good family times, what about appreciation of family members? At times we do not appreciate our family members the way they deserve it either because we are too busy with our daily routine and dealing with problems or because we simply forget. So here are some tips on how to appreciate and make family members feel loved:

One way to show family member you appreciate and love them is by saying gratitude phrases as it will let them know you appreciate their love, support and things they do for you:

  • ‘’Thank you for being my support. I truly appreciate your words of wisdom.’’
  • ‘’I appreciate everything you have done for me.’’
  • ‘’Thank you for always being there for me. I feel very lucky to have you in my life.’’
  • ‘’Thank you for making me laugh today – I needed that.’’
  • ‘’Thank you for taking the time to help me. I really appreciate it’’
  • ‘’Thank you for your encouragement and support.’’