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Ideally, holidays should be a time of family gatherings that offer a renewal of joyous connections and a sense of belonging. But a family caught in dysfunctional patterns is often unable to transcend old unresolved conflicts.
Are you now trying to decide how to avoid the potential pitfalls of the past by making the right decisions that would allow for that long sought after holiday dream? From past experience you know that decisions as to where, when and how to celebrate the coming holidays are potential emotional land mines, offering fertile possibilities for contentious reactions and hurt feelings.. The possibilities for failure are many and the pressure is to figure out how to pick the winning choices. But what if there are no winning choices, no way to make the “right” decision. That’s when winning with a no-win strategy becomes an option.
A no-win strategy is a practical way of resolving problems or dilemmas that offer no positive solutions. Your attempts to make the right decision will be defeated whenever you try to find an answer that you believe offers a “win” solution, when only a lose/lose result is possible and inevitable. The classic comic example is when your mother gives you two new shirts for your birthday. To please her, you immediately put on one of the shirts and she accusingly says, “Don’t you like the other one?” No-wins can be great fodder for comedians, and often are, but they set up an individual to feel responsible for wounding another and/or conversely, being wounded by the other.
There are four steps in the no-win strategy:

  • The first step is the recognition that you are caught in a lose/lose situation, meaning that each of the choices offers more of a loss than a win.
  • The second step is giving up the belief that only winning matters and that there must be some way of teasing out a winning choice.
  • The third step is the understanding that any attempt on your part will elicit some negative result or reaction.
  • The final step is to make a list of what is the loss and resulting reaction involved in each of the choices. The decision then of what to do is based on which choice offers the lesser of the two or more losses.

A negative family dynamic played out in a no-win formula is perpetrated as long as the belief continues that there is a winning solution. For example, your biological family has a history of competitiveness among its members and you, being the youngest, are always destined to fail. Your two older brothers – who have had a falling out – have each invited you to their holiday dinner. What do you do? Clearly this is a lose/lose situation for, like the two shirts of the mother’s gift, whichever invitation you accept, the other brother will be hurt or disappointed, or angry or possibly abusive and you will continue to feel like you’ve somehow failed. (Note: your awareness of how each reacts to rejection must be included in your deliberation.) You make a list of what you lose if you go to brother A and what you lose if you go to brother B. Your decision is then based on which is the lesser of the two losses. A third choice, offering the least loss may be to decline both invitations and find a reason for an unexpected trip out of town.

The post was written by Ditta Oliker, author of the book THE LIGHT SIDE OF THE MOON