This is the first post in our Thanksgiving Family Survival Guide series.
As Thanksgiving quickly approaches, families are planning menus, finalizing invitation lists, and arranging travel to loved ones near and far. For our family, this year’s Thanksgiving is a double celebration as our youngest son, Zachary, celebrates his first birthday on Thanksgiving Day. His brothers will come home from college, aunts will arrive from Spain and California, to join grandparents, close friends, and others who have closely witnessed the joy and miracle of his life and eagerly embrace this special moment of celebration. It’s difficult to imagine a day more full with reasons for gratitude, appreciation, and acknowledgment of the gift of each other and life’s abundant blessings.
For many, Thanksgiving can also be a time of unusual stress and anxiety. For families estranged, distant or divided, the Thanksgiving meal may be one of very few occasions that relatives gather together during the year.
In marriage education classes and trainings I’ve led nationwide, I often talk about Thanksgiving in introducing stress styles of communication, a concept developed by the late Virginia Satir to explain that the way we communicate with each other often creates distance instead of closeness.
Satir’s styles quite often find themselves as uninvited guests to Thanksgiving meals, such as the Placater who acts one way on the outside and feels very different inside, eager to make their getaway from the Thanksgiving table to reveal their true feelings and thoughts that may be the opposite of what they portrayed moments earlier; the Blamer, who is quick to find fault with anything and everything, regularly scanning interactions and experiences for an opportunity to assert themselves while subtly or actively seeking to demolish, insult, or hurt others; the Computer, who shuts down feelings altogether, not wanting anyone to see his or her emotions and carefully avoiding seeing emotions in others, careful to always choose the right words, perhaps with a sneaking sense of contempt towards others, interacting more like a robot than a human; and the Distracter, who is out of touch with everything – themselves, others, and the situation as well, who may bring fun entertainment to Thanksgiving guests while making every effort to avoid any real connection to his or her feelings, the feelings of others, or the situation itself.
In relationship and marriage education classes, we encourage participants to embrace the positive aspects of each of these styles to avoid communicating in ways that push others away. The positive aspect of the Placater is empathy and concern for others; for the Blamer, it’s their ability to speak on their own behalf, albeit with the Placater’s empathy and concern for others; the Computer may be wise and have access to knowledge and resources that can benefit others, so long as it doesn’t include shutting off feelings in themselves or others; and for the Distracter, it’s the ability to bring joy and laughter, as long as it incorporates empathy, concern, and authenticity.
Combining those positive qualities creates a fifth style that Satir called the Leveler. Levelers can speak on their own behalf, with empathy and concern for others, access their knowledge and resources to navigate the challenges of life, and regularly embrace opportunities to enjoy life.
In the next installment of our Thanksgiving Family Survival Guide, we introduce the five steps of the Daily Temperature Reading (DTR) along with tips for bringing the magic of the DTR to your Thanksgiving family celebration.