Adult Children of Angry Families: Can We Really All Get Along?

Does this sound familiar? It’s time again for one of those obligatory family get-togethers. An important birthday, a special event, a major holiday – whatever the reason, you’re faced with one more day of the same old conflict, those familiar arguments, that temporary age regression that leaves you feeling like a kid again.

But, this time, you’ve decided things will be different!
You definitely won’t get drawn into the debates that leave you exhausted. You know you can keep yourself from responding with anger to the same old stuff that’s always tossed your way! And, most important, you are determined to have a good time (well… as good as you can make it!).

Those are the good intentions,
the plans you make before you are actually faced, once again, with the reality of that family of yours whose members still aren’t polite enough to make the changes that would help your peace plan work!

So – what next?
What can you do to prepare for the next family event so that things really do end up more peaceful – at least for you?

If you grew up in an angry family,
conflict may have become a familiar companion in your adult life. You may not be spending all your time angry. You may even have figured out how to never show your anger. Or, your relationships may look like that angry family of your childhood. Whether your anger is silent or expressed, whether you routinely communicate with anger or you shrink from disagreement, the lessons you learned as a child about how to deal with conflict may still be guiding your adult life. And – you may end up feeling a little out of control of your strong feelings.

However, things really can be better.
If you’ve decided that you still want contact with most or all of your family members, then you might as well figure out how to make that contact more pleasant. And, if all that planning to make it better hasn’t worked so far, it may be because you could use a little help.

First, you might want to ask at least one trusted relative or friend to help
you brainstorm some strategies. Using a support community really can help. In addition, there are lots of self-help books out there on how to get along with difficult people. They offer some excellent advice.

Second, think about the guest list at that next family gathering.
Is there at least one person whose support you can enlist, in advance, to help you avoid being caught up in problematic situations?

And, third, can you identify at least one behavior or reaction that you can plan,
before the event, to do differently this time? You don’t need to change everything, just one piece of your participation.

If these strategies aren’t working as well as you’d hoped,
you might consider the possibility that friends and family may not be able to offer the help you really need.

Growing up with anger can have a lasting impact on your adult relationships
and can influence how you manage your own strong feelings. But, the good news is that help and change are possible! Counseling can help you understand why life is sometimes so challenging for you – and how you can more effectively make the changes you hope for.

If you’d like more information
, see my article, Going Home Again: Family Communication Tips for Adults, browse this site, send me an email or give me a call at 310 475-1759.


Few Communications Require Immediate Responses: The NBA Approach to Avoiding the Wars.

You may have experienced more than once that “I shoulda said…” moment, after being hit with an unexpected comment from a friend or colleague. And – I suspect that, like me, you’ve also occasionally found yourself thinking about how you could have avoided the conflict and anger that arose from the exchange that followed.

Over the years, I’ve learned (sometimes the hard way!) that not every comment, question, request, criticism requires an immediate response. In my previous post, I suggested that it could be helpful to delay your response, if you don’t know what to say (Tip #1).

But – doesn’t politeness dictate that we need to reply quickly to avoid conversational awkwardness? And, don’t we need to defend ourselves when we feel offended by someone? Well…… maybe.

Politeness and self-defense don’t need to be tossed out in order to avoid starting the next world war.
You may not even need to have the little battle that could lead to that war. Sometimes all you might need is another strategy for getting across the message that you are unhappy about what someone has just said.

One technique that often helps
is to plan in advance to use this three-step NBA approach when stuck in a difficult conversation (remember to keep the anger out of your voice):


1) Notice the physical tightening signaling your stress (you may need to practice noticing);
2) Breathe deeply for a count of 3;
3) Ask a short question: “Could you give me more information about that?” or “Could you give me a minute to think about that?”

Here’s a brief example:
  Your boss stops by your desk as you are engrossed in doing an assigned task. You may expect that he’s going to compliment you for your hard work. Instead, he says something like, “I thought you’d be finished with that already. And, you’ll need to do that piece over again.” Recognize that familiar internal cringe? Your impulse might be to point out your hard work, let him know you did it exactly as previously instructed. Since you’re now stressed, your voice will show it and you may end up sounding argumentative. Your boss responds in kind, and the problems start.

Or you could: 
 1) Notice your own familiar stress signs; 2) Breathe for a count of 3 (time to regain control); 3) Ask, “Would you give me more details about what you need from me on this?” (Or substitute your own magic words like those offered in the previous post.)

What you’ve accomplished:
  You look and sound professional. You avoid a no-win angry debate with your boss. Your task is clarified (maybe you misunderstood?). Your boss never gets to know what you really think of him/her (rarely a good revelation on the job!). You can go home a little less stressed.

What your boss might end up learning:
  If you consistently meet tactlessness or criticism with quiet professionalism, your boss might just learn to modify his/her approach in reaction to your style. Even if that doesn’t happen, you have the satisfaction of not rising to the bait!

Have you discovered other strategies that work for you?
How do you handle those disturbing or challenging comments that catch you by surprise? I invite you to share your own techniques for managing potentially angry conversations.


Use Your Words Well – Good Advice to Children (and Adults)

Many years ago, while out walking with a friend and her four year old daughter, we stopped at the park for a few minutes of play time. Another child around the same age came up to us, pushed my friend’s child and tried to grab the toy she was holding, saying loudly, “Mine!” My friend had been working hard to teach her bright and headstrong child to interact appropriately with others. She bent down and whispered to her child that great parenting advice, “Use your words.” My little companion immediately stood up straight, hands on hips, and clearly said, “Leave me alone. That’s not nice!” The boy quickly pulled back, became quiet, and backed slowly away.


I’ve thought about this incident often over the years.
I wonder what became of that little boy who didn’t know how to use his words to get this little girl to play with him. My hope for him is that someone eventually taught him how to make friends, how to communicate more effectively, so that he doesn’t still need to grab others’ toys in order for him to have fun. I do know that my sometimes temperamental, strong-willed young friend has become a bright, self-confident young woman who uses her words quite effectively.


This incident came to mind again recently as a result of my active involvement in several organizations. I’ve watched potentially great ideas fall by the wayside and have seen some bright, talented people whose contributions are brushed aside – all because they just didn’t use those words effectively.


Of course, this is an immense simplification of a rather complicated issue. There are many reasons people have difficulty communicating effectively. Some people just haven’t learned some important social skills or may not know how to read essential social cues. And others find that deeply felt emotions seem to rule – even when they really know what they could be doing to be more effective. Look for more information about communication roadblocks in future posts.




1) Take a few minutes to think before responding. Few communication opportunities or disagreements require immediate responses.


2) Listen more than you talk. Many arguments happen when two people talk and neither really hears the other.


3) Ask clarifying questions before you respond. Repeat back what you think the speaker wants you to know, and check to see that you’ve got it right. This gives you a chance to think, while the other person feels you really do want to understand.


4) Acknowledge the other person’s position (even if you disagree). This results in calmer discussion.


5) Offer to collaborate on a solution to diffuse conflict.If it’s a little hard for you to keep a calm voice in the face of a challenging conversation, it might help to take a brief break (bathroom, telephone, etc.) to do some deep breathing and get a little more grounded.


Remember that not all conflicts are solved easily. But, you have the power to keep those small disagreements or conversational challenges from growing into huge battles.


And – here are some “magic” words to use that can get your conversations back on track (but avoid that angry tone of voice, if you want these words to be heard!):


1) I don’t quite understand what you mean by that. Could you go over that again?


2) Seems as though you believe …………  Did I get that right?


3) What an interesting idea! How would you make that happen? (Even if you don’t agree – just ask!)


4)  I’m really uncomfortable with what you just said. When I heard ………  I felt ………….


5)  We seem to disagree on this. Is there any part of this subject we can both agree on?


6)  I guess we both feel strongly about this. It helps if I know how you feel, even if we can’t agree.


What’s worked for you? Have you developed any sure-fire strategies for managing those difficult conversations, so that anger doesn’t rule? Are you facing some challenges at work or at home that you’d like me to consider for a future post? I’ll do my best to respond to your questions and comments as soon as possible.


I look forward to hearing from you.