Stop Avoiding Difficult Conversations: An Expert Gives Us the Key!

By: Paulina Aguilar

Having difficult conversations has always been a problem in every family, which is why we present a quick guide to make the uncomfortable more comfortable.

We interviewed expert Adriana Alejandre, founder of Latinx Therapy, who partnered with Breyers to help Latino families facilitate difficult conversations without hurting anyone’s feelings. This inspiring project, which is called Vanilla Conversations, is a guide designed to establish conversations that demystify stigmas that can recur within multigenerational households. It is not uncommon for some family gatherings to end in a fight after an aunt asks, “Why aren’t you married yet?” or “When are the children coming?” If you have felt offended by any of these questions and don’t know how to react -without spoiling the family gathering- you must read on.

What motivated you to collaborate with Breyers for the Vanilla Conversations project? 

It is an honor to collaborate with a brand that prioritizes mental health. Breyers is a brand I grew up with that brings back many beautiful memories. When I learned about the mission behind Vanilla Conversations, I knew I wanted to be a part of this initiative. I identify as Latina, I’m the daughter of immigrants, I’m a mother, and I’ve lived in a multi-generational household for 32 years. Vanilla Conversations provides support, education and awareness with practical and compassionate skills for all generations. This collaboration lets me continue to destigmatize mental health for a larger audience.   

Why is it important for our community to have difficult conversations, especially within multigenerational households?

Talking about taboo topics helps to normalize those conversations, quell shame and prevent future problems. Our community is uncomfortable talking about these topics, and we tend to avoid sensitive conversations because they open up poorly healed wounds from the past. This causes hostility because we don’t know how to communicate the message without sounding preachy, or we don’t see that a sensitive conversation can be a form of prevention. In multigenerational households, these sensitive topics have effects on the different generations. The way one generation approaches a conversation becomes an acquired behavior for the next. For our families to break the vicious cycle, we must learn to create space for ourselves and our loved ones, work through the discomfort, and educate ourselves on sensitive topics so future generations might have a better example and live more consciously.  

Are there times when we should NOT have difficult conversations?

Sensitive conversations should not occur when there is an argument going on or when we don’t understand our own mixed feelings about the topic. When people touch on a sensitive topic, I think it becomes more difficult to pick up the conversation on that topic in the future. When a person isn’t sure how they feel or how to approach a sensitive topic, I recommend asking for help, whether it’s from an educator or therapist, reading posts on Facebook or Reddit, or asking a friend for advice. Another recommendation: practice what you plan to say out loud and in front of a mirror, and depending on how you feel at the time of the conversation, you can decide if you’re ready to say it or if you need more time. During a delicate or sensitive conversation, it is a good idea to communicate when we feel it necessary to pause, especially if the conversation starts to take an unproductive turn.

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Tips for addressing questions in the following categories: 

Relationships

Relatives are very curious about our relationship status, and that cultural mindset has led us to believe that relationships must achieve certain goals. When they ask us if we have a partner, or when we will get married, or if they tell us that we should learn to cook so that our partners won’t leave us, we receive a projection of their beliefs about relationships. You can answer this question directly, or with humor, or with another question to understand their intentions. A very good technique is to respond by talking about yourself, for example: “I feel _____ (complete with a feeling) when I am asked ______ (complete with the question you have been asked). What I need is ________ (complete with a boundary / type of support you need)”.  

About your body

There are different ways to approach comments about our body, and it’s not easy because they bring up historical issues one has with identity, image, trauma, and so on. Think of a response that makes you more confident. Remember not to explain yourself or expend your energy for anyone. And, as difficult as it may seem, that includes your relatives. Allow yourself to evade the question and change the subject if you are not ready to set a boundary. Another possible response is to explain to the person why the comment about your body hurt you or others. 

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Childbearing

This issue arises from the intergenerational belief that couples or married people have the goal of having children, and that there are no fertility issues. It is important to consider where those beliefs come from because it helps to generate distance between you and that statement. 

To respond, I recommend communicating honestly about your perception and your decisions, as long as you don’t do it in a passive-aggressive way. In my case, I tell how difficult motherhood has been for me. They ask me when I got married and then say, “Oh, but you’re just getting started.” In that situation, I understand that this is what they chose for their life and I don’t take it to heart, but gently explain to them how I choose to live my life. I usually end up changing the subject after saying, “I have a limited ability to raise children and I really enjoy working. I am very happy with my family’s current situation.” I know some people don’t want to share too much. So, it may be good to set a boundary by saying, “I’d rather not have this conversation.” 

Your profession

When approaching this topic, I invite you to step back, take a deep breath and think of a boundary you would like to set. I recommend the sandwich method for doing this. This method consists of the ability to communicate firmly, and begins with a positive statement about the person (or the intent of their message), then set a boundary and end with a positive or neutral comment. For example: “I appreciate you caring so much about me. I’d rather you respect my decision not to change jobs because I enjoy it. I know you care about me a lot.”

The key is to make truthful and sincere statements. 

Your mental health

In one way or another, we all experience some effect on our mental health, and we deal with it in different ways. Some people go to the gym, others make artistic creations, walk barefoot, go to therapy and/or combine different methods. Leaning toward any of these options does not mean that therapy is exclusively for crazy people. Therapy is a space to process emotions and learn new skills. We can do this in the short or long term. Mental illness does not discriminate and can affect all of us, at any time. 

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About the author: Paulina Aguilar

Cathy-Nuestro-Stories-Writer-Image-200x275

Graduate in Communication Sciences, pizza taster, cat whisperer, Muggle expert and specialist in series and movies.

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