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Feuds: A Love-Hate Relationship

Posted on May 19 2017 under Blog Posts

exchange-of-ideas-222786_1920There is something about a feud we love to watch and see unfold; and, there is a polar opposite feeling when we are directly involved and impacted by emotional disputes. We hate to be in one. There are numerous historical examples of famous family feuds such as the infamous Hatfield and McCoys. Hearing the family names conjures up fierce fighting, violence, and hatred. The media sensationalized the stories as time went on creating a lasting impression in American culture. FX television series recently portrayed another famous rivalry between iconic Hollywood actresses Bette Davis and Joan Crawford in Feud: Bette and Joan.

Susan Sarandon plays Bette Davis’s role, and Jessica Lange plays Joan Crawford’s character. The spellbinding series captured my full attention, and I loved watching the two actresses, Sarandon and Lange give award-winning performances. What was interesting in watching the series is how the drama unfolded with each star positioning themselves to outperform the other and win at all costs. The women fought over acting roles, lovers, directing scenes, the limelight, and just about anything where one had power over the other. Unfortunately, Hollywood elite, gossip columnists, producers, and directors pitted Davis and Crawford against each other to keep the fight going creating a media buzz for high dollar ratings. Sarandon and Lange’s performance made me feel the tension, anxiety, frustration and anger as the two played out the intense scenes.

In yet another recent television series Fear Thy Neighbor on the Investigation Discovery channel, the series portrays real crime cases of neighbor feuds that resulted in intense fighting, verbal abuse, physical violence and even murder between families. In many of these cases, the neighbors started out being friendly and even good friends. In every single case, a seemingly small irritation occurred between two households such as driving over someone’s grass, playing loud music, or feeding the deer.

In each of these feuds, the misunderstandings and small disagreements could have been addressed early and simply if people had not closed the door to conversation. Instead, the silence and avoidance only lead to people making false assumptions, negative judgments, and increasing anger and destructive behaviors. It causes people to take sides and deepen the positions of right and wrong. The cycle continues until tensions and intolerance take over causing an eruption which is often damaging and can be deadly. The key to stopping a fight from becoming a lengthy feud is to address the situation early, calmly and constructively.

Obviously, television’s aim is to entertain, educate or touch their viewers. I must admit I am attracted to these types of programs but would hate to be personally involved in a feud. I tend to view these programs as an opportunity to learn what NOT to do. Here are things you can do.

  • Think about the possible consequences of your retaliatory behaviors
  • Consider other reasons for why the other person is upset with you
  • Approach the other person as someone who is in pain, fearful, or anxious versus someone who is evil.
  • Monitor your emotional thermometer taking measures not to boil over causing a surprising eruption

Next time you watch a movie or television series, observe the behaviors, non-verbal cues, and emotions that contribute to de-escalating a dispute and then try them out in your life.

Pattie Porter, LCSW

Conflict Management Expert


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