Three Tips on Dealing with Difficult Family Members

They say you can choose your friends, but not your family.  While family members are often seen as the most supportive, reliable people in your life, that may not always be so.  Sometimes not all family members have the same perspective, the same personality, or even have your best interest at heart.

Having watched a lot of Netflix dramas, I can say that family dramas can be often dramatized and even addicting to talk about over and over again.  And trying to deal with the same issues or the same difficult topic can be draining.  With Family Day approaching, here are some tips for dealing with difficult family members and how we can always learn from conflicts and grow from them.

Step Back and Reflect

Sometimes family drama can be quite heated.  Whether an upsetting argument over the phone or a tense family dinner, the first thing is to separate ourselves from the conflict.  When we’re in the heat of the moment, we can say things that upset and add oil to an already fiery argument.  Don’t feed the urge to “get even” or “prove a point”.  Instead, separate yourself from the person and the conflict.  This gives you time to cool off and look at the situation from a different angle.

When our minds and bodies feel threatened, we come to a fight or flight response that impairs our ability to think clearly and act rationally.  What does this look like in a typical argument or discussion?  Perhaps, excusing yourself to your room or taking a moment to get some air outside rather than lashing out at the person.

Listen Actively

Sometimes it’s easier to ask for what we want before we take the time to listen.  When you’ve had a chance to voice your concerns in a calm and collected way, listen to the other individual’s perspective.  And when you listen, engage yourself with eye contact, nods and sincerity.  Listen to understand their concerns rather than with preconceived notions.

Actively listening means that you communicate what you heard with the individual.  For example, when tensions with my mother became heated I would step away from the conversation and come back at a later time.  Then I allowed her to voice her concerns with not doing the laundry frequently enough.  I allowed her to vent her frustrations.  This does not mean you have to agree with their standpoint, but it means that you can see where they come from.

Communicate Clearly

When we’ve had a moment to cool off the emotional part of our brain, we are more equipped to voice our concerns.  This might mean setting certain boundaries.  For example, when I had tensions with my siblings over using each other’s belongings, I’ve had to sit down and have an honest conversation with them.  I took the time to step back then come to a conclusion on my goals for the conversation.  The discussion was smoother and it also helped the other person realize the hurt and anger their actions had caused.  Even though this may not always have the outcome desired, it means that you’ve taken ownership and action to change the situation in a mature way.