Have you ever found yourself at a family gathering, hoping for a picture-perfect holiday moment only to have the festive cheer dimmed by certain words in the air? It’s a common scenario – those closest to us sometimes inadvertently stir uncomfortable sentiments, creating a stark difference between the ideal and the real in our holiday experiences.

Certain words, like “fine,” “whatever,” “could,” “should,” and “ought to,” hold immense significance, especially when spoken by our loved ones. These words often carry hidden expectations or judgments, subtly shaping our self-perception and influencing the way we experience these cherished moments.

Let's explore some of these trigger words that often create rifts in our celebrations and explore ways we can navigate conversations with kindness and honor for oneself, ensuring our holidays remain joyful.


Empowering Use: "Fine" can positively express satisfaction or contentment, like acknowledging hard work with a statement such as, "The holiday decorations look fine.”

Dismissive Use: However, when said dismissively or with indifference, “fine” can deflate holiday cheer.

How to Deal: Respond with grace, acknowledge your effort, and shift the conversation towards the festive spirit. For instance, “I put a lot of thought into the decorations, and I’m glad they add to the festive atmosphere. Let’s focus on enjoying the holiday spirit.”


Casual Use: "Whatever" is often used informally to express agreement or a lack of concern. For example, someone might say, "Let's have pie for dessert," and another person responds, "Sure, whatever you like.”

Dismissive Use: However, "whatever" can become a trigger when used with a negative tone. If someone says, "Do whatever you want; it doesn't matter," it can come off as indifferent or dismissive.

How to Deal: Respond with understanding, valuing everyone’s input,  and steering the conversation toward collaborative decision-making. You might say, “I value your input and want to find a solution that works for everyone. Let’s discuss our options together.”

"That's Great”

Empowering Use: When genuinely used to express approval or satisfaction, it’s a heartfelt compliment. For example, if someone says, "Your holiday dish turned out great," it's a celebration of your culinary efforts.

Sarcastic Use: However, "that's great" can be a trigger when used with insincerity. If someone uses the same phrase with a tone that suggests mockery, it might make you feel as though your hard work is being belittled.

How to Deal: Respond gracefully, maintaining a positive atmosphere. For instance, "I'm pleased that you enjoyed the dish, and I'm always happy to contribute. Let's keep the atmosphere positive."


Empowering Use: The word "could" can be a supportive suggestion when used in an encouraging manner. For example, someone might say, "You could really shine in the holiday talent show," implying their belief in your potential and inspiring you to showcase your skills.

Doubtful Use: Conversely, "could" becomes a trigger when paired with a tone of doubt or criticism. In the case of, ”You could perform in the talent show, but do you think you've got what it takes?" - that doubt may cause you to second-guess your abilities. 

How to Deal: Address a doubtful use of “could” with confidence and a smile. You might say, "I appreciate your concern, but I'm excited to perform!"


Supportive Use: "Should" can be used to encourage positive behavior. For instance, someone might suggest, "You should join in the family's annual holiday tradition; it's a fantastic bonding experience,” fostering a sense of togetherness.

Pressuring Use: However, "should" can exert pressure when used in a critical manner. If someone says, "You should have wrapped the gifts more neatly; it's the least you could do," it can feel like a stress-inducing demand.

How to Deal: Respond to a pressuring “should” with kindness and assertiveness. You can say, "I'll keep that in mind for next time. Let's focus on the joy of giving and being together this holiday."

"Ought To”

Guiding Use: "Ought to" is sometimes used as guidance. For example, someone might advise, "You ought to respect everyone's holiday customs; it's essential for a harmonious celebration." This promotes a sense of understanding and inclusivity.

Judgmental Use: Someone might say, "You ought to attend every family event; it's your duty,” causing you to feel judged or guilty for not meeting these expectations.

How to Deal: Respond to a judgmental use of "ought to” with empathy and understanding. For instance, "I value our family events, but sometimes I have other commitments. Let's find a balance that respects everyone's circumstances and keeps the gatherings joyful."

Reflecting on the intention and personal impact of these words is crucial.  If negativity arises, setting boundaries while honoring yourself and others with kindness can reshape the conversations, making your gatherings more fulfilling and harmonious. By steering dialogues with respect for diverse beliefs and feelings, you can ensure that your holiday experiences remain filled with warmth and love, aligning with your values.