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How to handle those awkward Thanksgiving conversations

One local expert says try to focus on why you are there and don't forget to drive your own car.

COLUMBIA, S.C. — It's not always an easy task keeping the peace at the turkey table on Thanksgiving when there are different perspectives and personalities present.

This year is especially challenging too.

"We have so many things that divide us and this year we have pandemic related issues with vaccinations and masks, so try to steer the conversation toward things that you all enjoy and to some extent, agree upon. The things that you have in common. And if it's too hard to talk then I definitely encourage people to take some action. Get out there and do things that you enjoy together," said Paula Whitaker, Ph. D. clinical psychologist and associate psychology professor.

Whitaker is a psychology professor at Columbia International University.

She shares that there's no perfect family. Sometimes, making the best decision for yourself means not accepting all the holiday invitations.

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Whitaker says in the context of a broken family with family members who have suffered harm or abuse, it's important each family member make the best choice for themselves. 

Whitaker shares it's important to take little moments for yourself throughout the week, whether that's taking a nap or reading a book.  She goes on to say that Instead of talking politics or religion, try catching up on life, reinforcing what's in common and re-telling fond memories.

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"If we're a person of faith or of a certain political belief, those are very important values that we hold and so sometimes a lot of emotion comes with those discussions," Whitaker said.

Those types of conversations don't change minds too often and typically leaves people feeling mentally drained or upset so she recommends
leaving that serious talk for another time and place if you can't be constructive or a good listener.

Practicing gratitude and assuming the best will get you far at the Thanksgiving table. 

"We know that when we act in a thankful way and we practice gratitude by outlining what are we thankful for, what are we grateful for about certain people, it actually helps us to appreciate them more," Whitaker said.

"This might be once or twice a year that you get to see family, so do you want that time to be tempered with hostility and ill will or can we say 'Hey, we want to see you, we want to spend time with you, we love you," said Terry Smoak, pastor at Kilbourne Park Baptist church.

Pastor Smoak encourages you to avoid insults and language that tears down. Instead, he said we should practice respectfulness and thoughtful listening. 

"I think that families need to remember first and foremost, they’re family and they love one another, so everything that we say or do needs to be tempered in God’s love," Smoak said. "When it comes to conversations that we have differences of opinion, I think that we want to use words as the Bible says that builds up and not tears down."

Talking turkey sounds way better than hashing out politics anyway.