28 May, 2020
Surviving Families under Covid 19 Lock down #8
This week's article will focus on the role of making assumptions in understanding conflict within families.
It is normal to disagree with each other from time to time. Occasional conflict is part of family life. However, ongoing conflict can be stressful and damaging to relationships. Some people find it difficult to manage their feelings and become intentionally hurtful, aggressive or even violent.
One way of avoiding conflict is to be more conscious of what are just our assumptions and thoughts about a given situation and what are the facts in that situation.
Let's start with looking at the diagram below and imagine that person A is a child and B is a parent.
If we imagine that the child comes home from a walk and observes that their parent is sat on the sofa. A has the thought that the parent is annoyed which leads to other assumed thoughts. For example:
- Person B is waiting to 'have a go at me' because ‘this is what always happens’.
This thought may lead A to feel frustrated and angry and ready themselves for an argument as soon as they enter the house. For example they may enter the house shouting,
what are you going to have a go at me about this time, you're so unreasonable!”.
However, person B (the parent) has actually been busy very doing housework whilst A was out and is sitting down to have a rest.
They experience Person A shouting at them which leads them to assume that the child is ungrateful for all the work they do to keep the house nice. They may begin to feel frustrated or annoyed and this results in the action of shouting back,
you are so ungrateful, can’t you see all the work I have done while you have been doing your own thing!”.
This is then experienced as evidence for the original assumed thought and may lead to them feeling more aggrieved and the argument / conflict quickly escalates.
At stressful times, we tend to be driven by our emotions and opinions, and not facts, which help create a vicious cycle by fuelling each other.
Conflicts of this nature are quite common amongst families, particularly when they have had to spend great deal of time together and stress and anxiety levels may be high with families worrying about work, health, school etc.
The interesting thing about conflict in this example is that if we go back to the beginning, neither party had done anything wrong initially. The conflict came from assumptions and negative thoughts about the other. When we look at the cycle illustrated above and think about how this could have been avoided or dealt with differently it becomes evident that it is assumed thoughts can drive conflict. The good news is that by changing our perspective on how we are thinking about each other, or by focusing on what we see and not what we feel, we can change our thoughts.
If A (child) had come home and had a different thought such as “Mum/Dad looks tired they must have worked hard” this could lead to a feeling of gratitude and action of offering to do something such as making a cup of tea. This behaviour would then change the parents view from frustration to perhaps feeling appreciated, and the resulting actions would not cause or escalate any conflict.
The key message from this is assumption and negative thoughts about others have a tendency to create conflict but we have the ability to control and change these. We can challenge our own assumptions by asking questions, you might find our article on Effective Communication and Dealing with Conflict useful here.
Gloucestershire Family Information Service
If you are finding it really difficult to resolve issues in the family then you can call the Gloucestershire Family Information Service who offer a FREE, impartial and confidential service to families and are available Mon – Fri, 9am – 8pm and on Saturdays 10am – 6pm.
Here's how to contact them:
- Call FREE on 0800 542 02 02. If they can’t answer straight away, leave a message and they will call you back
- Email at firstname.lastname@example.org and they will respond to you the same working day
- Find them on Facebook and leave them a message
Worried about violence and abuse at home?
If you are worried about your own or other's safety in the home you can call:
- 24-hour National Domestic Violence Helpline 0808 2000 247
- or 999 if you are in immediate danger.
If it isn't safe for you to speak wait for the prompts and dial 55 when asked by the operator.