Kiss and make up

The idea that Christmas is stressful because of family feuds is a common refrain, and a myth. But it’s a myth that could become true through repetition.

These formulaic ways of talking about common parts of life spring readily to people’s lips. We joke about the “terrible twos” when a kid throws a tantrum. We hope people can find “closure” after an unpleasant time.

We’ve long known that most of these concepts are false. But research has found that they can be made true by their very existence.

For example, no soldier in World War II or earlier described “flashbacks” as part of their post war experience. It appears to have arisen in soldiers’ experience since then – in concert with the rise of the flashback concept in popular literature and movies. It’s not that modern soldiers don’t have flashbacks – they do. What’s probably happening is that the brain is expressing the stress in a socially prescribed way.

That’s an amazing idea; our minds can adopt an invented socially-popular ‘story’ so completely that it becomes real, changing our attitudes and behaviour.

Myths and narratives are at work in many PR battles. To beat them you need to stop the problematic narrative taking shape early, or to use an equally strong counter-myth, or to expose the myth itself.

That gives us an idea. To avoid squabbles at Christmas, you could invent a story that your family has a long history of never feuding. Repeated often enough, it will become true.