How to Deal with Toxic or Frustrating Family Members

Thứ bảy - 27/04/2024 01:09
Learn to maintain healthy boundaries with difficult family members Whether they're a member of your household or a visitor around the holidays, difficult family members can take a toll on your mental and emotional well-being. Thankfully,...
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Whether they’re a member of your household or a visitor around the holidays, difficult family members can take a toll on your mental and emotional well-being. Thankfully, simple strategies like setting boundaries, using “I” statements, and practicing empathy can go a long way when you’re dealing with negative relatives. We’ll walk you through all these approaches and more (including when it’s time to pull the plug on a familial relationship), so you can confidently put yourself and your needs first in toxic family scenarios.

How do you deal with mean relatives?

  • Set clear boundaries around what behaviors and language you will and will not accept.
  • Steer clear of sensitive topics that could negatively derail a conversation (like politics).
  • Empathize with a difficult family member by trying to put yourself in their position.
Section 1 of 2:

Coping with Difficult Relatives

  1. Step 1 Create clear boundaries with them.
    Draw some clear lines in the sand to help make your potential interactions more comfortable and manageable. This might involve limiting the amount of time you spend together, refusing to discuss certain topics, or refusing to be spoken to in a certain way. When these boundaries are violated, say something like:[1]
    • (To a partner) “I’m not comfortable spending a lot of time around your dad. I can spend time at your parents’ house for 2 hours, but not any longer than that.”
    • “I’m not comfortable talking about politics. Can we change the subject?”
    • “I don’t like it when you use pet names with me. Please use my name when we’re speaking.”
  2. Step 2 Express your needs...
    Express your needs using “I” statements. Starting a statement with “you” tends to sound more like an accusation, while “I” statements allow the focus to be on your own thoughts and feelings. A difficult family member might be more responsive if you speak to them using an “I” statement.[2]
    • What not to say: “You need to stop prying into my personal life.”
    • What to say: “I feel a bit judged when assumptions are made about my personal life. I would love to have conversations where we can both feel comfortable and relaxed.”
  3. Step 3 Empathize with the relative as much as you can.
    Empathy is all about putting yourself in someone else’s shoes and making an active effort to understand their perspective and situation. While empathy doesn’t erase a person’s hurtful actions, it does potentially make them easier to understand and interact with. Some simple ways to practice empathy include:[3]
    • Actively listening to what the person says
    • Tuning into a person’s body language
    • Being critical of your automatic assumptions
  4. Step 4 Avoid sensitive topics in conversation.
    Topics like politics and religion definitely have the potential to get people riled up, so it’s best to keep them in the “do not discuss” zone. If you’re worried about uncomfortable topics being brought up, try to join the conversation with someone who shares your viewpoints so you don’t feel isolated.[4]
    • Try taking a tongue-in-cheek approach by saying something like “I bet I can go 2 hours without talking about anything political. Does anyone think they can beat me?”
  5. Step 5 Listen to what the relative has to say.
    If a conversation seems inevitable, go into it with the best attitude possible. Try to actively listen while the relative shares their thoughts, even if you don’t agree with them. Creating a respectful environment where your family member can feel heard may smooth things out.[5]
    • Enter the conversation to try to understand what they’re saying, even if you don’t think you’ll agree with them at the end.
  6. Step 6 Prioritize yourself and your needs.
    It’s hard enough to deal with difficult relatives when you’re feeling 100%, but it’s even more challenging when you aren’t on your A-Game. Before entering a potentially negative conversation or situation, put yourself first by:[6]
    • Having a snack so you don’t feel hungry (or worse, hangry)
    • Taking a quick walk around the neighborhood to clear your head
    • Stepping into the bathroom and having a peaceful moment to yourself
    • Reader Poll: We asked 367 wikiHow readers, and 54% of them agreed that the best way to cope with feeling upset or irritated around your family is to take breaks from spending time with them. [Take Poll]
  7. Step 7 Focus on the family member’s positive traits.
    Try to recall something helpful or uplifting the relative did recently, even if it doesn’t cancel out their negative qualities. Thinking about these positive elements might make your time together a little more palatable.[7]
    • You might think about the time your grandparents sent you a card after your pet died, or how your uncle lent you some money when you were in a tight spot.
  8. Step 8 Try not taking...
    Try not taking hurtful comments to heart. Put the person and their insensitive remark in perspective—do you really care about what this relative has to say, or are they consistently harsh and rude to you (and others)?[8] Chances are, their mean comments come from a place of misunderstanding or ignorance and don’t deserve your time and energy.
  9. Step 9 Use relaxation strategies if you need to.
    If a conversation or interaction gets stressful, have some go-to techniques to help calm your heart rate and keep you grounded, like:[9]
    • Doing yoga
    • Trying progressive muscle relaxation
    • Deeply breathing
    • Visualizing a peaceful scenario in your mind
  10. Step 10 Apply conflict resolution strategies when necessary.
    Instead of approaching arguments and tense conversations from an “only one of us can be right” perspective, focus on finding peaceful and respectful ways to resolve the conflict, like saying “We’ll have to agree to disagree on this.” It also helps to:[10]
    • Choose your battles wisely. Some family members are a magnet for conflict, and some fights just aren’t worth picking.
    • Get a read on the other person’s emotions. If you can figure out why they’re tense, there might be an opportunity for empathy.
    • Be willing to let bygones be bygones in minor conflicts rather than hanging onto old grudges.
  11. Step 11 Choose the role you play in your family dynamic.
    It can be easy to feel forced into an uncomfortable role in your family, like being forced to be a mediator. Decide what roles you do and don’t want to play in your family, and make it clear what you are and aren’t willing to do.
    • “I’m not your messenger. If you want to tell him that, I would prefer you say so yourself.”
    • “I appreciate that you trust me as a confidant, but I don’t have the emotional energy to support you right now.”
    • “I’m happy to listen if you want to vent, but I refuse to take sides.”
  12. Step 12 Focus on what you can and cannot control.
    Identify elements of a situation that are within your control, rather than what isn’t. For instance, you can’t control your grandmother’s judgmental statements, but you can control how much time you spend around her.[11]
    • You can’t control what your obnoxious cousin wants to talk about, but you can try to lead the conversation in a different direction.
    • You can’t control who your parents invite over for the holidays, but you can control how you spend your time and who you spend it with.
  13. Step 13 Increase your emotional intelligence.
    Developing emotional intelligence is all about building good emotional habits in your life. Improving your emotional intelligence comes down 4 important skills:[12]
    • The ability to manage your own emotions: Keeping your stress levels low and staying grounded in the moment
    • The ability to be self-aware: Understanding, acknowledging, and accepting your emotions
    • The ability to be socially aware: Being more mindful and plugged into other people’s emotions
    • The ability to connect with others: Embracing difficulties and conflicts with other people and lightening the mood with laughter
  14. Step 14 Accept your family member for who they are.
    With some relatives, it might be tempting to try and “change” their behavior somehow. Even though your intentions are good, it’s impossible to change someone unless they’re willing to make an active effort—which ultimately isn’t your responsibility. Instead of imagining a different, more improved relationship, ground yourself in the acceptance, knowledge, and reality of your existing relationship.[13]
    • It’s pretty easy for relatives to tell when someone is trying to change their behavior, which doesn’t typically improve the relationship.
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Section 2 of 2:

When & How to Cut Ties

  1. Step 1 Consider cutting ties with a relative who isn’t willing to improve.
    Does your family member appear to be putting a genuine effort into bettering themselves and their relationships with others, or do they seem completely unwilling to change? If they refuse to put any effort into self-improvement, cutting ties might be the best option.[14]
    • What if my relative is abusive? Cutting ties is almost always the best call when it comes to abusive relationships, be they physically, verbally, or emotionally abusive. Your safety and well-being always come first, and you don’t have to put up with a family member’s toxic behavior.
  2. Step 2 Choose to cut...
    Choose to cut ties passively or directly. In some cases, cutting ties can involve taking a step back and communicating a little less until you stop talking altogether.[15] In other cases, it might be better to have a direct conversation about ending the relationship.[16] Choose a method that makes the most sense to you and the circumstances of your relationship.
    • When addressing the relative in person, use “I” statements to explain why you’re taking this space for yourself; that way, they’re less likely to be on the defensive.[17]
    • In some cases, it might be easier to write a letter explaining why you’re cutting ties.
  3. Step 3 Give yourself permission...
    Give yourself permission to mourn the lost relationship. Cutting ties with someone doesn’t magically erase the memories and past history you share. It’s completely valid to feel a sense of loss and grief after cutting off the relationship, even if it was an unhealthy one. It’s also normal and okay to second-guess yourself after making such a big decision, even if it was the right one to make.[18]
    • Be prepared to feel the loss more deeply on special occasions you formerly spent with the relative, like Thanksgiving or other holidays.
  4. Step 4 Lean on people who understand what you’re experiencing.
    Meeting with a therapist, attending group therapy, or confiding in a trustworthy friend are all great ways to acknowledge and cope with the difficult feelings you’re experiencing. Try to confide in people who can really understand and empathize with what you’re going through, rather than people who could potentially react insensitively.[19]
  5. Step 5 Keep your options open if the relative seems to change in the future.
    You don’t have any obligation to reconcile things if you don’t want to—but there’s nothing wrong with keeping your finger on the pulse of the situation. If the relative starts to make meaningful changes in their life, you might feel comfortable enough to reach out again.[20]
    • Reconciliation is a journey, not something that typically happens instantaneously. Be patient with both yourself and your relative if you choose to make amends.
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