Chapter 2: All in the family

When conflict occurs

The moment we heard about Dad’s cancer diagnosis, everything changed in our family.

Family members are part of the family system, and when someone in the system becomes ill, it’s common for anger and conflict to surface. Disagreements may occur over treatments, appointments, and medications may occur. Add to this intense feelings, ways of coping, and new roles, and it may be unrealistic to expect relationships to carry on smoothly. Click on each phrase below for more information on why anger and conflict might arise.

Anger often comes from frustration; from being misunderstood or afraid; or from not being heard or acknowledged. It is a natural reaction to the threat of loss or to loss itself. Hurt, fear, and guilt can all contribute to anger. Anger often surfaces when we feel vulnerable.

Consider this

Consider where someone’s anger is coming from and what feelings or experiences it might be rooted in. Remember that all relationships have a history and that past bad feelings often surface during times of stress.

The presence of conflict does not mean there is something wrong with you or your family. Especially when everyone is facing stress, there are many changes at play, for example, changes in feelings, roles, family “rules,” situations, or finances.


Consider this

Take a step back, and think about what the conflict is rooted in.

Words of wisdom

A wise person once said, “At any given moment, human beings are doing the best they can.” Try to acknowledge that each person in the family is adjusting to the situation as well as they can in difficult circumstances.  

What may help

Consider what you can do and what is beyond your control. Try to pause and make room for yourself at this challenging time.

Consider places that you and your family members might find community or professional support through the healthcare system, friends and family, or faith communities.

Consider professional family counselling through a social worker or therapist. Many families reach out to find new ways to manage a very difficult situation.

Helpful resources