Do you have a family member who irritates you to no end? While you cannot choose your family or its members, you can choose how you react and respond to difficult situations in your family. You probably can’t avoid family gatherings, and you may even have good relationships with all of your family members except this one. There are ways to handle family situations more easily, making family functions less stressful and more enjoyable.
Part 1: Dealing with Unavoidable Interactions
1. Consider how you want to act. Take a few moments before spending time with this relative to consider how you want to act. Perhaps you and this relative have had disagreements in the past. Consider what sparked these arguments and whether there are any ways to avoid getting into one this time.
You may be proud to be an atheist, but your Aunt may believe that being an atheist will send you to hell. It might be best to avoid discussing religious beliefs when you’re with your Aunt.
2. Wait a moment before you speak. Don’t react quickly or speak without thinking, especially if you have strong negative feelings toward someone. Before you speak, take a deep breath. If you’re having trouble keeping negative comments to yourself, gently excuse yourself.
“Excuse me,” you say. “I’m going to use the restroom” or “I’m going to see if any assistance is required in the kitchen.”
3. Obtain assistance. If you are having difficulty getting along with a relative, inform someone in your family (such as a spouse/partner or sibling) that you would like to limit your interactions with this person. That way, if you become trapped in a discussion or argument and want to leave, you can signal for help.
If you think you might need help at a family gathering, you can agree on a sign ahead of time. For example, you could make eye contact and give a hand signal that says, “Please assist me in escaping this situation!” ”
4. Have a good time. You don’t have to avoid family gatherings because of a family member. Focus on spending quality time with your family and participating in activities that you enjoy. Focus on other things even if the family member you despise is present. If you find yourself in a conversation with this relative, try to find a distraction to help you get through it (like playing with the dog).
If you are afraid of sitting next to a relative during meals, make name cards and sit far away from this person.
5. Keep the relative busy. Giving a difficult relative a job or a task at family gatherings is one way to deal with them. If you’re preparing a meal, ask the relative to chop onions or set the table, and let him or her do it his or her own way. That way, the relative will feel like he or she is contributing and will be able to get out of the way for a while.
Find ways to include this relative while also keeping them busy.
6. Make use of humour. You can use humour to disarm difficult behaviour and bring some lightness to the situation, especially if the situation is tense or uncomfortable. Make a lighthearted remark to demonstrate that you are not taking yourself or the situation too seriously.
If your grandmother keeps telling you to put on a sweater, tell her, “I should go get a sweater for the cat, too; I wouldn’t want her to be cold!”
7. Make an exit strategy. If you are afraid of interacting with this relative, come to the event prepared with an explanation for why you need to leave. You could have a friend call you (or you could call a friend) with a “emergency,” or you could say your house alarm is going off or your pet is sick. Whatever you think is plausible, have a potential excuse ready if you’re feeling uncomfortable or angry with your relative.
Part 2 Drawing Healthy Boundaries
1. Avoid recurring squabbles. If your uncle likes to bring up politics but you don’t want to talk about it, don’t bring it up. Make an effort to avoid bringing up politics in this family setting. Even if your uncle brings it up and tries to encourage you, how you respond is entirely up to you. This applies to rival sports teams, universities, or cousin rivalries.
Say something like, “We can agree to disagree and leave it at that,” or “I’d really rather not get into that here, and I’d prefer to have a great family gathering without this argument happening again.”
2. Choose your battles wisely. Your cousin may say something extremely offensive to you that you immediately want to respond to or correct, but take a deep breath and consider whether it is worthwhile to engage or not. If your grandfather says something offensive, consider whether your response will change his perception or spark a debate.
You have to grit your teeth and say, “You’re entitled to your opinion,” and then move on. Allow people to live their lives.
3. Resolve disagreements. If you can’t stand your relative because of a disagreement, try to resolve the disagreement between you and your relative. You might need to set aside some time to sit down, be honest with each other, and clear the air. Be gentle, compassionate, and non-defensive when approaching your relative.
The sooner you resolve disagreements, the less resentment there will be.
Be ready to forgive.
 You don’t have to ignore the situation or pretend it never happened; instead, learn to forgive so that you can let go of the hurt and pain within yourself.
4. Say “no.” If a relative appears to be requesting something from you (money, free labour, a place to stay, etc.), don’t be afraid to say no. Keep in mind that you have the right to say “no.” You have the right to wait and think things over before agreeing to anything if you want to consider things before saying “yes.”
You are not required to justify or justify your response. Simply state, “I’m sorry, but I’m unable to do that.” You owe no one an explanation.
5. Stay away from passive aggressive manipulation. Perhaps your difficulties stem from your relative’s passive aggressive remarks comparing you to other grandchildren or nieces and nephews (“Well, Jason got into university, but you did great going to community college”). Your relative’s passive aggressive remarks or actions may even make you feel manipulated. If your relative is being passive aggressive toward you, keep as much distance as possible and don’t interact any more than necessary; remember that it’s not about you and it’s not personal.
If you believe you are being manipulated, devise an escape strategy (“I’m going to see if any help is needed in the kitchen” or “I’m going to play with my nephews, I haven’t seen them in so long!”). Don’t participate in the conversation.
6. Maintain your family’s rules. If you’re having trouble enforcing family boundaries with relatives, make it clear that family rules apply at all times. If you don’t like how a relative treats your child (for example, bossing the child around or feeding unhealthy foods), let the relative know that the behaviour violates family rules, and family rules are enforced both inside and outside the home.
When discussing this with your relative, be direct and to the point. “Allison isn’t allowed to play that game at home, and she’s not allowed to play it here, either,” you say.
7. Handle sensitive situations. If a relative has done something he or she should not have done, set whatever boundaries you need to feel safe. It is up to you whether this means not inviting this relative to family functions, completely avoiding him or her, or informing the family that the relationship has ended. Put the emphasis on feeling safe rather than punishing the family member.
When informing other family members about the situation, use your best judgement. Keep in mind that, while you may believe the situation is unforgivable, your family may not agree and may continue to have contact with this family member.
While you may want to keep your distance from a family member for your own safety, keep in mind that estrangement can be extremely harmful to both you and your family members.
Part 3 Working Through Your Feelings of Hatred
1. Take proper care of yourself. If you know you’ll be spending the day with a relative you despise, make sure you’re as prepared as possible. If this person brings out your aggressive or testy side, make sure you slept well the night before. If you’re tired and grumpy at the family Christmas gathering, leave early. Also, make sure you’ve eaten: if your blood sugar levels are stable, you’re less likely to become angry or aggressive.
2. Keep in mind that it is not about you. If someone belittles you, talks down to you, or says hurtful things to you, remember that this is a reflection of the person rather than you. Maintain your composure and remember who you are. Try to tune out the words and remind yourself, “This isn’t about me.” This is a projection of my aunt.”
People are frequently mean because they are dealing with personal issues. This can occur when a person has low self-esteem, anger issues, or is stressed. Feel compassion for your relative and hope that he or she will find hope one day.
Others may act in a certain way and truly believe it is acceptable and normal. This can be caused by a variety of factors, one of which is a person who allows their competitive and cutthroat business style to permeate their personal life.
Some people simply lack the biological tools required to feel empathy. This could be due to genetic differences or the way someone was raised (i.e., the environment they grew up in).
3. Recognize that you cannot change this person. There is probably nothing you can do to change the person with whom you disagree. You may have a fantasy of a happy family celebrating every holiday together, but when this relative arrives, that fantasy is shattered. It is up to you to let go of your fantasy and accept that this is the family you have, and that fantasy is nothing more than a happy and nice thought that is not grounded in reality.
4. Accept your relative’s offer. Instead of approaching this relative with disdain and contempt, practise acceptance and empathy. When your relative speaks, pay attention and try to understand what he or she is saying.
Pray for this person with loving compassion. Take a deep breath and look at your family member. Then think to yourself, “I see you, and I see that you are suffering and in pain.” I don’t understand your anguish, but I see it and accept that it affects me for the time being.”
5. Look for reasons to be thankful. While you may dread family gatherings because you dislike spending time with difficult relatives, there is no doubt that you can find something to look forward to or be grateful for when you meet with your family. Maybe you’re looking forward to seeing your nieces and nephews, or you’re glad you get to cook (or not cook).
Find reasons to be thankful even before you arrive at the family gathering. This way, you can enter the situation already feeling grateful.
6. Consult a therapist. If you are having difficulty moving on from the hurt and pain caused by a relative, you may benefit from therapy. A therapist can assist you in working through feelings, discovering coping mechanisms, seeing things from a different perspective, and working through underlying feelings of depression, anxiety, or other diagnoses.
If you want to include a relative in your therapy, you could look into family therapy. While it may be difficult, it can help you confront and discuss difficult topics with your relative.
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