How to Deal with a Difficult Family Member During the Holidays

Will you be interacting with a difficult family member as we celebrate Thanksgiving holiday in the U.S.?   (Or do you face a difficult person in your workplace?)

Do you feel criticized and frustrated, and wish they would be different?  Do you find yourself reacting and reverting to old ways?

If so, you are still carrying unresolved patterns. A sign of this is frustration about not being who you want to be in your life, or progressing in your work the way you hoped.

Make a pledge that TODAY is the day you make strides toward dealing with past blocks to your potential.  To get you started, keep these strategies in mind as you drive up to that family dinner or welcome people into your home…

1. Sort out “Your stuff” from “Their stuff

Immediately sort out what the OTHER person has contributed to the tension and what YOU might have contributed (even if on first blush you think the answer is ‘nothing at all!”)

If you don’t feel heard or understood by a difficult person, know it’s because that person is stuck in their outdated perceptions.  The way they see you reveals more about the old story they are stuck in rather than what is factually true about you – even though they are convinced they are right. That’s ‘their stuff.’  Any moment you focus on their stuff you will feel they are ‘doing it to you’ instead of empowered to create your own experience.

Turn your focus to ‘your stuff’: what you CAN control.

One of the best things you can control is the ‘story’ you tell about why the person is acting the way they are. You will be tempted to go with ‘black and white’ assumptions such as ‘they are a jerk’ or ‘if they say that about me it must mean I’m not good enough’.  Require yourself to go beyond these shorthands.  That’s when you will start to see that person hasn’t been exposed to more healthy ways of thinking or that person is repeating patterns that were done to them.   Then you can see more clearly that ‘its not about you.’

Only try to improve the situation by thinking about what YOU can shift in your own approach.   Have you taken responsibility for what you’ve contributed and apologized for it?  Have you had empathy for their point of view? Have you set boundaries effectively or tuned them out when appropriate?

Don’t allow yourself to blame them or feel frustrated until you have been Impeccable for your 50%! (this idea is fully described in my book Success under Stress)

2. Shift from anger to acceptance, and criticism to compassion. Usually you only feel angry at other people because their limitations are interfering with them giving you what YOU need in order to feel good in yourself.

The good news is that you no longer have to try to control that person to be other than they are. Once you can source your confidence from within and from the rewards of your life, its less important whether that person sees you for who you are because you are no longer looking for their input to feel whole in you.

Confidence allows compassion.  To have compassion, you need to see the other person’s behavior as revealing their struggles and limitations. You can’t do that if you are making it about YOU, how they are not giving what YOU need, or YOUR judgment about them.

To be less upset about their behavior, your mantra is “Accept others’ level of evolution… and work on your own!”

 3. Update your understanding

Do you see yourself now more favorably than they see you? Be proud how you have grown. Rather than seeing their behavior as deliberate or hurtful, it’s actually sad and disappointing. You weren’t able to have the mutually satisfying relationship that ‘could have been’ if they were more evolved or could see the beautiful person you’ve become.  Still trying to get them to change is just a way of putting off this acceptance which will set you free to actually get what you are hoping for elsewhere (where you have more control).  When it comes to that person, try to ‘keep the best and leave the rest’.

Do you give more weight to their opinion than your own and are emotionally affected by their words?  You react because you still hold the same view of yourself as they have of you (though you may not realize it on a day to day basis, you ‘go there’ in your private moments…) Their criticism or rejection activates your doubts.

Doubting yourself causes you to look outside of yourself in order to know how to feel about yourself inside.   When your only supply line to that ‘emotional oxygen’ of feeling worthy comes from other people, then it really matters what they think!  You will try to get them to think well of you by being perfect, pleasing them, or holding back saying or doing anything that might evoke their judgement.

Your opportunity is to become emotionally independent of that person and step into yourself.  The fastest way to do this is to get your confidence from within and from the rewards of your life.

Make meaningful progress in your life now: create a new family of people you feel connected to, seen by, and enjoy. Make a contribution you feel proud of.

4. Protect yourself from their negativity

I had a difficult person in my life who felt it their duty to criticize me.  At first I separated what was “useful” from what was “not useful”. I tried to look for a grain of truth to see if I could enlarge my view of myself and learn from it.  Other things said had nothing to do with me.  So I protected myself from them.   I said I appreciated their concern but was not going to open myself to it.   I asked if there was anything else we needed to discuss and let them know I would be removing myself from the interaction.

If the person won’t stop being toxic, you can protect yourself just using your imagination: Surround yourself with a shield  using whatever metaphor is fun for you (e.g., rays of white light, a glass cone like in the movies, wear a breastplate). Or imagine the person is speaking in that garbled tone like ‘Charlie Brown’s teacher’, so you are paying respectful attention to them but not letting the specifics of anything they in.  Want to keep their negativity out of your energy field?   Cross your ankles and your arms! Or use cooling breath to diffuse the negative emotion

5. Kill them with Kindness

Have you assessed that person is never going to change and you’ve given up on trying to improve the relationship with that person? Then shift into a mode to survive – not inflame- their behavior.  “Kill them with kindness” by smiling on the outside but protecting yourself on the inside.

6. Grow your Gratitude 

Remember that the way they talk to you is the way they talk to themselves all day long.  Be thankful that you only have to hear it a few hours a week/month/year, etc. rather than every minute of every day like they have to. Think about when that person won’t be on the Earth anymore, and try to appreciate what you can about them now.

Be grateful you are capable of connecting meaningfully with people in your life in a way they might not be able to.  Pour yourself into those ‘relationships of choice’ and appreciate them. Make sure you are taking in the love and support you feel from others (and not just give til exhaustion without taking it in.

7. Be in your power

You have the power to make today the first day of the rest of your life.  Commit to becoming the person, the role model, the value-add YOU want to be.  No-body and no-thing else can stop you from having the thoughts, feelings, and behaviors that will help you make the contribution you’ve been put here to make.  Others are only put on your path to help you develop the skills you need to be more of who YOU can be.

You have the power to rise above your reaction to see what skills you are meant to develop by having to interact with this person.

You have the power to make this family holiday rejuvenating instead of draining.  Be the first to shift the pattern and the other person will follow (or at least you will feel detached from the effects).

Want to figure out who you WANT to be so you can show up as as that person no matter how anyone else acts?  Learn how here

I invite you to leave a comment below or share with others.

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