You cannot choose your family, so you may be saddled with difficult family members with whom you have no choice but to deal. If so, you’ll want to know how to interact with them without driving yourself insane. Maintain your cool and assertiveness when dealing with difficult relatives. Then, implement strategies to make interactions with them more enjoyable. It can also help you to distance yourself from them when you need to save your sanity.
Method 1 Working Around Difficulties
1. Remain calm. Relatives have a unique ability to get under your skin. However, if you allow that to happen, you may explode and make matters worse. When difficulties arise, learn to control your emotions. Learn to recognise when you are becoming irritable or angry. When you are triggered, take a step away from the situation to get some fresh air, count to 100, or practise deep breathing.
2. Use “I” statements to be assertive. To avoid being railroaded, practise assertiveness if you have a run-in with a difficult family member. Say what you need to say in the fewest words possible. Use “I” statements to take ownership of your feelings and ask for what you need without causing the other person to become defensive.
For example, you could say, “I don’t like it when you speak for me.” Could you please allow me to answer the questions?”
3. Refuse to be swayed by the guilt-trip. Difficult family members frequently use guilt-tripping. Making you feel guilty in order to influence your decisions is a form of emotional abuse. You are not required to fall into the trap.
Assume your aunt tries to guilt-trip you by saying, “Well, I’ve travelled all this way. I thought you’d at least let me pick the menu for the event.” You could respond, “Aunt Margaret, please don’t try to guilt-trip me.” We allow you to choose the dessert and one of the entrees. We will vote as a group on the rest of the menu.”
4. Pay attention to what they have to say. Have you really listened to what your difficult family member is saying? All people want at times is to be heard. Furthermore, there is a chance that some of what the person is saying is true. Actively listening to what they’re saying may make them feel acknowledged and allow you to work through a misunderstanding.
If a member of your family has a reputation for being difficult, you may be ignoring what they have to say out of habit. Take the time to listen to what they have to say. Consider where they are coming from and whether any part of their statement is correct.
5. Allow them total freedom in one area. Some relatives will complicate matters because they are desperate to be involved. Allow your difficult family member to have complete control over their job. Giving them a goal may keep them occupied and out of your hair.
For example, if your cousin stands back and complains while others cook, ask them to set the table and clean up the sitting area.
Method 2 Improving Interactions with Them
1. Stop attempting to influence them. It’s a difficult reality to face, but you’ll have to accept your difficult relative. This entails letting go of the fantasy that they will one day appear and be a breeze to deal with.
Accept them for who they are and the challenges that come with dealing with them. You can accomplish this by demonstrating empathy for the individual. Skip the judgments and respect who they are as a person, even if you disagree with them.
You might discover that once you learn to accept them, dealing with them doesn’t seem so difficult.
2. Look for their positive characteristics. Difficult relatives have a bad reputation. When they arrive, everyone begins moaning and groaning about their flaws. If you only look at the negative aspects, you will miss out on the positive. Even the most unpleasant family members have a redeeming quality. Make an effort to locate it.
For example, does your grumpy Uncle Charlie have a lovely wife? There must be something good about him if he chose her. Perhaps there is a soft spot beneath the surface. Spending more time with him may assist you in seeing it.
3. Make plans for a pleasant interaction. Setting an intention can help you change the way you interact with a difficult relative. Tell yourself that you will commit to an easy, pleasant interaction before you meet with them. By doing so, your brain may just come up with ways to make that happen.
For example, tell yourself, “Today’s lunch with my in-laws will be satisfying.”
Then, think about how you can make the meeting more enjoyable. Perhaps you could come up with a few neutral topics for conversation or a positive affirmation to repeat if things go wrong.
4. Prepare by practising self-care. Difficult family members can be exhausting. They may consume so much of your energy that you have little time to care for yourself. Counteract this issue by addressing your own needs before interacting with them.
For example, if you are going to spend the weekend with family, plan a relaxing day at the spa before you leave. Make sure you’re eating nutritious foods and getting enough rest.
Make time for self-care during your visits if possible. For example, if you’re spending a week with your family, plan a relaxing outing on your own. Even taking a short walk around the neighbourhood can help you relax and clear your mind.
Method 3 Getting Some Distance
1. Set and enforce your boundaries. When it comes down to it, you have to look out for yourself. If a difficult relative becomes too much for you to handle, set personal boundaries. Boundaries are the restrictions you impose on others in order to protect your own health and well-being. Inform your relative that they are infringing on your boundaries and that you require space.
For example, you could say something like, “Uncle Ralph, please call me before you drop by.” I enjoy seeing you, but having guests over isn’t always a good time for me, and I require advance notice.”
2. Take a stand for yourself. You will need to assert yourself if your difficult relatives continue to violate your boundaries. Depending on your boundaries, you may decide to finally speak up for yourself and express your limits to a difficult family member.
For example, perhaps a family member expects too much of you. You could say, “Aunt Lisa, I’m doing my best. I desperately need you to step back and let me handle this. Micromanaging me is only making matters worse for both of us.”
3. Spend some time away from your family. If your relatives are getting on your nerves, you may want to take a few days off to clear your head. This is perfectly acceptable if it is necessary to manage stress or conflict.
Inform your family of your plans by saying something like “This is all getting to be too much for me. I’m in desperate need of a break. I’m returning to the city for the weekend to clear my mind.”
4. Make some family members your allies. If you feel alone in dealing with a difficult relative, reaching out to others in the family may help. By forming alliances, you can bounce ideas off one another and come up with more effective solutions to problems. Furthermore, if someone else understands how you feel, you will not feel alone.
For example, tell your sibling, “I’m going to need some help dealing with Cousin Harriet this weekend.” “Would you mind filling in for me?”
5. Seek assistance from outsiders. No one understands a family’s dysfunction better than its members. However, going outside the family can help you vent your frustrations or simply take your mind off things. People who are not members of the family may be more objective about the situation. When you need to unwind, call on your closest friends.
In the midst of your family reunion, invite your best friend out for drinks. You’ll look forward to getting away and having someone objective to talk to.
6. If necessary, cut ties. If difficult family members are endangering your mental health and well-being, you may have no choice but to cut all contact with them. Spending too much time worrying about family members or attempting to solve their problems can take over your life.
You could completely cut ties with the difficult person, or you could simply refuse to be drawn into the chaos they create.
For example, if a family member is addicted to drugs and refuses to seek treatment, you could say, “Sorry for the inconvenience, but I need to get some space for myself and my family. I do not want my children to grow up in this environment.”
Choose the aspect of “breaking ties” that is most appropriate for your situation and communicate your wishes to everyone involved.
You are not required to break off contact permanently. Sometimes all it takes is a little time and distance to restore balance in a relationship.
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