How to deal with a difficult family member at Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving and end-of-the-year holidays can mean get togethers with your family of origin or extended family.  While that can include comforts and joys,  it can also mean interacting with people who control, frustrate,  criticize, or burden you.

There are so many other stresses you are likely facing this year, here are some tips to deal with that difficult family member and still have an enjoyable holiday experience.

You have two choices about how to deal with someone who is difficult:
1)   You can try to make things better with them  OR

2)   You can stop trying to make things better or get them to treat you with respect.

Here’s my philosophy:   Start with #1. You can “try” to make it better, BUT here’s the rule:  You have to assume the other person can’t or won’t change.  You can only try if you try to improve YOUR contribution to the interaction, not change them in anyway.  Examples of this are owning responsibility for what you have contributed;  speaking to them respectfully;  acknowledging thing that are important to them (like their birthday, their kids, etc), setting better boundaries, making your requests more clearly.

If #1 isn’t working, or hasn’t worked for a long time, then do #2:  Stop Trying.  And Use the strategies below instead.

1) Sort out “my stuff” from “their stuff”

Know that what they say tends to be about them,  rather than about you. You don’t feel heard or understood because they are stuck in outdated perceptions of you. The way they see you reveals more about where they are stuck than about what is factually true about you.

However, if you are truly hurt by their negative perceptions of you, its usually because you have the same view of yourself as they have of of you (much as you hate to admit it!). Their words only serve to activate your own doubt about yourself.

If this is the case, then your real opportunity is to stop being upset with them, and to start  1) accepting who you are now or 2) taking action everyday to become a person you are proud to be.

If you see yourself more favorably than they see you,  you will be more disappointed than angry.  It is truly sad for both of you that they are stuck or obnoxious, because its causing both of you to miss out on a much more mutually satisfying relationship.  But all of your efforts to make the situation better are really just your efforts to put off the grief over not having the love and respect you deserved from that person.  The best thing you can do is to create a new family of people who you can feel connected to, feel seen by, and enjoy.
2)   Protect yourself from their negativity

To protect yourself, surround yourself with an imaginary shield.  Use whatever metaphor works for you (e.g., surround yourself with rays of white light,  place an imaginary glass cone around you).  Another thing that works well is to imagine the person is speaking in that garbled tone like ‘Charlie Brown’s teacher’, so you are paying attention to them but not taking in the specifics.

3)   Kill them with Kindness

If I ever start killing you with kindness, beware 😉 I recommend Kill the person with Kindness for situations in which you’ve given up on trying to improve the situation.  Use this strategy when you have to stay in the situation, and you just want to survive – not inflame – the bad behavior.   Try to be genuine, at least as much as possible!

4) Be Thankful

Remember that the way that person talks to you is the way they talk to themselves all day long.  So, be thankful that you only have to hear it a few hours a week/month/year, etc. rather than every minute of everyday 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 for now.

Your takeaway:  Accept the other person’s level of evolution and work on yours!

(Print this out and carry it with you to Thanksgiving dinner if you need to…)

What is your question or comment about how to deal with a difficult family member at Thanksgiving?

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