Tips To Handle Difficult Family Members


You can’t choose your family, and that means you can’t exactly get rid of them completely. All of us have a soft spot for our family members, whether they are domineering, toxic, manipulative or even with a bratty attitude. We embrace and we forgive despite them getting on our nerves time and time again.

People are who they are and you can’t expect to change them. The bad news is, difficult family members or relatives are here to stay, especially during cultural reunions, festive celebrations or when attending a family member’s birthday bash. However, the good news is, we can learn to deal with difficult people in our lives and here are a few tactics to help keep us sane.


Use empathy to switch perspective

There are 101 reasons why certain people behave in a certain way. What you think is right may not be met with agreement. Rather than simply listening to the family member, try to listen for the sake of understanding. Yes, this can be really hard because you want to put your message across, but a switch of perspective to see where they are coming from can be a way to lighten your stress levels and create an opportunity to interact with them in a calmer way.

We are not forcing you to agree with their sentiments, but rather acknowledge the emotions and the other person’s point of view. You may find that once you learn to accept them, dealing with them doesn’t seem like such a challenge.


Remain calm

Take deep breaths and mask your anger with a smile, no matter how much you are clenching your teeth inside. We get it, relatives can get under your skin each time they open their mouths. It’s a mystery skill acquired over the years and it’s a rite of passage for everyone. You are not alone. Don’t allow your emotions get the better of you or an ugly dispute is bound to happen. Rule of thumb is to take in at least three deep breaths and step away to get some fresh air. Come up with an excuse if you need to step out of the house or the room to let out your frustrations.

Do the “shh shh” sound as you exhale, as if you are soothing a baby, it helps!


Avoid hot topics

The same way you don’t want to be triggered by unsolicited comments about your age or body, don’t go around provoking others about topics you know will end up in a heated debate. Subjects like politics, race, religion and even how much you are earning at work are topics - though very important - are not something you can discuss merely for a few minutes. Plus, it probably isn’t the right place and time to talk openly about heavy topics like these.

You can tell them nicely that you don’t want to discuss about it at this moment, and leave the room if you must. Be polite and respectful in rejecting them.


Maintain a sense of humour

You can laugh if off or be a little sarcastic with your replies. Read the room before making jokes or laughing it off because you want to be respectful and tactful. The last thing you would want is to make a joke about death at your grandparent’s 90th birthday bash.


Set boundaries

You are in control of what and how you want the outcome to be. You can be generous, kind and forgiving but you need to look out for yourself. If a difficult relative becomes too much to handle, you have to enforce your personal boundaries and make sure your health, mental health and well-being is taken care of. We all need a certain level of personal space and no matter how close we are with one another, we should learn to respect the boundaries.

You can say something like: “I’d rather not discuss this because it is inappropriate and this is not the time now.” or “I’d love to see you but please text me an hour beforehand before coming over because I may not be at home.” Be polite in your replies while letting them know you need space.


Stop trying to change them

No one can be persuaded that easily, especially if they are rooted in their own personal set of values and traditions growing up. It’s a hard reality but you will have to accept that people are different and it is going to be a constant uphill battle to change someone’s thinking. The reason they behave in a certain way is because they don’t see their behaviour as rude or wrong, so by telling them how to behave can be seen as a personal attack.


You are important too

Ultimately, we want you to know that building a good relationship doesn’t happen overnight. As family members, we quarrel and argue but the unconditional love is always there. When dealing with difficult relatives, there are times where we may feel helpless or hopeless and get ourselves too involved in their problems. Do know that you are as important in the situation and that your feelings are valid. Seek professional help if you need to, and even consider exploring family therapy to build a better future with your family members.


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