How to Deal with Difficult Family Members

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By Pam Teel
Do you have a family member you just can’t deal with and you just don’t know
how to handle the things he/she says and does? Well, there is hope. Knowing
how to approach a difficult family member, what to say and what to do, can help
you finally stop dreading every interaction you have with them.
Face it- Family members are who they are; as much as you want them to be
different, they won’t ever change. The only thing that can change is how you
see them. According to, Debbie Mandel, MA, a Stress Reduction Specialist and
Coach, if you don’t like what you see in a family member, change what you see
and how you react.
Focus on the positive.
Before meeting with your family member, don’t focus on how much he/she irritates you when they do this or that. Instead, think of all the qualities you like about them. Focusing on the good rather than the bad will prepare you for dealing with
the actions that do annoy you. This is because your stress level won’t
already be heightened before you even see them, which will make
you more able to tolerate them.
Be prepared.
Imagine what this interaction will look like, specifically based on your previous experiences with this person. Typically, difficult family members have a certain behavioral pattern that is easy to track once you become aware of it. Based on their past behavior, mentally prepare yourself to deal with any possible
scenarios you think may unfold. By doing so, you may find that you
have an easier time reacting appropriately.
Be empathetic.
Difficult people are not born that way, they become that way based on the interaction of nature and nurture. Even though it can be really hard, try to understand their perspective. You do not have to agree with their viewpoint, but understanding why may help you interact with them in a calmer way. Sometimes, there isn’t much you can do to avoid then annoyances of your family member. This is when you should employ some good conflict resolution techniques.
Use “I” statements.
It takes the blame off the person you are speaking to, which then helps them become less defensive. For example, you can say, “I feel threatened by the topic you are discussing.” If the person doesn’t stop when you try to change the topic or when you voice your lack of appreciation for his thoughts, state that the person
can either end the discussion or you will have to leave.
Suggest a break.
If you are sensing that the discussion is heading down a negative or unhealthy path, excuse yourself for a quick breather. Tell them you need some fresh air or that you have to make a phone call.
Postpone the conversation.
If you feel too overwhelmed by the conversation and would like to discontinue speaking with him/her, tell them in a gentle tone that you don’t wish to have this discussion at this time and excuse yourself.