How to deal with difficult family members on 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 have a pit of dread having to deal with that difficult person?  Do you react and fall back into old patterns? Are you doing the silent scream: “Why can’t they just be normal?!”

Make a pledge to yourself that TODAY is the day you free yourself from difficult people and unresolved patterns that drag you down and block your potential.

Here are 10 meaty ‘mantras’ for freedom – keep them in mind as you drive up to that family dinner or welcome people into your home…

1. Be Impeccable for your 50%”

Sort out what the OTHER person has contributed to the tension and what YOU might have contributed (even if on first blush you think you’ve contributed ‘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If you don’t feel heard or understood by a difficult person, know it’s because that person is stuck in their outdated perceptions.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. They might need to see you as ‘wrong’ or ‘holier than thou’ in order to protect themselves from facing their own limitations.

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.

Have you… taken responsibility for what you’ve contributed and apologized for it?  Had empathy for their point of view? Clearly asked for what you want and set effective boundaries?

Don’t allow yourself to blame them or feel frustrated until you are practicing Being Impeccable for your 50%!   (Many examples how to do this can be found in my book Success under Stress)

2. “Accept others’ level of evolution… and work on your own!”

Usually you feel angry at other people because THEIR limitations are interfering with them giving you what YOU need in order to feel good in yourself.

Shift from Anger to Acceptance.

Even though it feels like they are doing their behavior ‘to you’, see the other person’s behavior as revealing their struggles and limitations.

Be grateful you don’t have their challenges and that you are capable of meaningful relationships in your life.

Put your energies into becoming a person who doesn’t need whatever you were trying to get from them.  Then you are Teflon to their opinion of you.  Then you can have a relationship with them on YOUR terms.

3. “Grief is the gateway to freedom”

Rather than be mad that they are trying to hurt you, it might be time to give up that they are going to change and then allow grief.  It’s sad 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.  Accepting what has been may make you feel grief, but it will feel ‘real’ and right.

Grief will set you free to stop hoping against hope that you will get what you richly deserve from that limited person, and put you on a course 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’.

4. “Confidence enables compassion”

 Do you still believe what they say is true and are hurt by their words?

Even though you are mad and hurt, on some level you react because their criticisms activate your own doubts about yourself.

Doubting yourself causes you to look outside of yourself (to others) in order to know how to feel about yourself inside.  When feeling worthy comes from other people, then it really matters what they think!

You can’t have compassion or see their vulnerabilities if you are making it about how they are not giving what YOU need, or YOUR judgment about them.

The fastest way to do this is to get your confidence from within and from the rewards of your life.

5. Get your own “Emotional Oxygen”

 Just as we need to breathe physical oxygen, we need emotional oxygen to feel good and ‘enough’ in ourselves.  It stands for feeling loved,  worthy, valued, belonging, etc.

As children, we come to know ourselves through the eyes of important others.  We are hardwired to get our emotional oxygen from others.  As we mature, we must learn to ‘put the oxygen mask’ on ourselves so we can then give it to others.

Some of us over-rely on getting that emotional oxygen from others, and then we feel jerked around as we try to be perfect, please, or second guess so as not to be judged by them.

We move so fast that we literally breathe shallow and rapid, rarely taking a moment to ‘exhale’ or take a full breath.

Put on your ‘to do’ list one thing you can do each day that will take 3 minutes or less but will help you breathe in that emotional oxygen:

Can you:

  • Celebrate your wins and value the way you make a difference for others?
  • Breathe deeply or meditate or do stretches that make you feel alive in your body?
  • Actually take in the compliment or the hug that is genuinely given?
  • Volunteer and be grateful for what you DO have?

6. “The best revenge is a good life”  (quote attributed to Gertrude Stein)

 It might be the case that you just don’t relate to the culture in your family.  Maybe they are not educated and you are “degreed”;  Maybe they didn’t support the person you chose to marry.  Maybe you are liberal and they are conservative, or they are not religious and you are deeply spiritual.

Whatever the differences, be happy with your life and reaffirm values you’ve chosen. Take a moment to appreciate the points along the way that allowed you to become who you are. Be grateful for the role they served in helping to shape you.

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.)  Put your energy making a contribution you feel proud of.

Affirm your life.  

7. Pre-plan your pivot

 Make plans before the holiday to limit ‘landmines’. Do you have a certain food restriction? Bring your own so they don’t have to accommodate you.  Don’t like a certain drunk Uncle?  Ask ahead to be seated at the opposite end of the table.

Playfully offer ground rules when you greet that person, “let’s all agree there will be no discussion of politics”

If hot button topics come up, have a plan how to deal with them. Instead of being pissed off and scratching your head ‘how the other side could possibly think that way”, enjoy the opportunity to be a detached sociologist.  Ask questions to genuinely try to understand ‘the other side’ so you can use it as ammunition to influence them.

If the other side just wants to blather and is not open to constructive conversation, then have a pivot strategy ready:  ‘let agree to not talk about politics’ and then ask them about their kids.

Have an exit strategy (get an invite somewhere else for dessert!)

8. Don’t risk until ready for any response

 Research now has validated the importance of psychological safety for high functioning teams, and the same applies to your family.  Psychological safety refers to your ability  to be yourself, to be vulnerable, to speak up and feel you will not be shamed for doing so.

If you have the sense that it’s not safe to be vulnerable, test for psychological safety.

The right choice may be to not risk it for now.

In that case, don’t tell people details about your business or your relationship difficulties. Don’t share your dreams until you have already created an inevitable momentum toward achieving them.

If you have a #metoo story, don’t bring it up unless you are ready to face any possible response.  The person might have evolved and be ready to take responsibility – that will feel validating. Or the person might still be in denial.  If you will be hurt by their denials, you are not ready.

If you are called to speak up just in order to feel YOU have fully expressed yourself, and you are ok with any possible response (including one of dismissal), then now’s the time to speak your truth or send a letter.

9. Protect yourself from their negativity, 

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!

10: 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).

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