Family Friction“When we come together as a collective… we kind of transcend ourselves in a little way.”

As heard on Drivetime

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In the third and concluding part of his Drivetime series, Dr Paul D’Alton talks to Mary Wilson about family friction over the holiday period, a time of year that, he says, is so important and so significant for many people.

“People at end of life will hang on over the next few days to spend that Christmas, to be alive for this Christmas.”

It’s also a time of year when there are fewer mental health presentations to Emergency Departments – but this is countered by a big increase in presentations in the New Year. But the Christmas period is one of those times that the French sociologist Durkheim called a “collective effervescence”.

“When we come together as a collective… we kind of transcend ourselves in a little way.”

Over the Christmas and New Year period, many people will find themselves spending a lot of time with the “first family” – the family that they didn’t choose. And sitting across the table from our siblings, all of a sudden a lot of the progress we’ve made over the years and decades can fall away and we can be 10 again – and not necessarily in a good way. This, needless to say, can cause no small amount of family friction.

“Psychologically, it’s Christmas regression.”

The friction that can come with this regression can be stressful. So Paul’s advice is to expect it and to try to retain a capacity to draw on the part of us that has actually grown up and recognise that the same old patterns don’t have to be repeated. One method of doing this, Paul told Mary, comes from an Austrian neurologist and psychiatrist called Viktor Frankl, who said, “between the stimulus and the response – there lies our freedom”. Paul suggests that Frankl’s advice can be applied over the holiday period by slowing things down, taking a moment and knowing how to respond to the sort of stimulus that would get under your skin when you’re feeling like a 10 year old again.

There’s much, much more, including blended families at Christmas, the politics of who visits who and when and you can hear it all on Dr Paul D’Alton’s extended conversation with Mary Wilson by clicking play above.

Niall Ó Sioradáin

© The Listener 2019

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