Christmas season brings people together who may otherwise have little to do with each other. Yes, I’m talking about family and extended family. Others experience a great sense of reunion at this time – lucky you! But for those who find themselves troubled by the presence of difficult relatives, this post is for you. Christmas is always cathartic as we wave goodbye to the year that has been – and let’s face it, 2020 was a doozy – so managing emotions may take a little extra care.

There are many tips and techniques offered online for managing emotions at Christmas, so I’m going to explain family dynamics in a very simple way so that you can observe the situation with a sense of objectivity, rather than feeling like a victim of circumstance.

Managing emotions with the Satir Categories

Virginia Satir is a well known American family therapist who died in the 1980s. She developed the Satir Categories which explains the five core personality types in a family scenario. Some families may have only some of these types while others may have the royal flush. The categories apply to relationships in general, not just families.

  • The Blamer – You will recognise the Blamer as one who asserts dominance and power. They call others into account
  • The Placater – This type is submissive and aims for peace. They will be the one to back down.
  • The Computer – Computers cannot process emotion very well. They are overly rational in an attempt to disguise emotion.
  • The Distractor – Do you know any ‘look at me’ types in the family? They need to be the focus of attention because they ultimately feel that they don’t fit in.
  • The Leveller – This type calmly asserts control. Kind but strong. They are open and rational, without denying their emotional side. This is the balanced type – the one who gives good, well considered advice.

So in order to work with these types, you need to understand what it is they need – what their motivation is. Once you understand that, you will know how to appeal to them so that they actually listen to you, if you choose to. This will help you not only in managing emotions on your part, but theirs also.

Core needs

  • The Blamer feels unsuccessful in some way, so in order to work with them, you need to make them feel successful and not so alone. You can bring them over to a point of resolution much better this way rather than focusing on their control issues.
  • The Placater feels worthless in some way, so making them feel worthy is going to help the issue resolve. Once they feel worthy they will not feel so weak and they will be able to contribute to the resolution, rather than just giving way.
  • The Computer feels vulnerable and that’s why they freeze out their emotional side. Making them feel safe is going to progress the issue dramatically.
  • The Distractor feels that noone cares and that they don’t belong. Making the Distractor feel included and valued will help the argument or situation to resolve because you will have gained their participation.
  • The Leveller needs no assistance – s/he is ready to resolve the issue.

Identifying types

Managing emotions can be much easier when you know what you are dealing with, both in yourself and with others involved. But sometimes it is hard to recognise who is who. An emotional manipulator may be crying ‘poor me’ but at the same time, playing the Blamer role, as s/he controls the situation with their emotional blackmail, making others feel at fault. While s/he may sound like the Placator who is suffering away, s/he is not suffering in silence. So watch out for such barbs in your appraisal of the situation.

First up, which one are you in this situation? Be honest. And I say ‘in this situation’ because these types are contextual, that is, at home you may play one role while at work or with your friends, you may play another. So think about a family issue you’re dealing with, identify your role, and identify the roles of the others. Now you are in a good position to see what’s really been going on, according to the motives of each party, and you are in a brilliant position to lead the situation towards a resolution.

If you need help with relationship issues, this is just the beginning. There is plenty more to do within your own psyche and in your dealings with others. Good luck and happy holidays!