four ways to cope with difficult family members
It's almost the "most wonderful time of the year", and while many of us can't wait to get together with extended family, it can also bring up opportunities for arguments, resentment, judgment, hurt feelings, and a host of other negative emotions. This is true for everyone, but especially when we have children with a behavioral challenge like DMDD, ODD, or ADHD.
First of all, did you know that you don’t HAVE to get together with your family at all? I know you think you do, but if you’re an adult, you can do or not do anything you want.
Maybe you are deciding to get together because you would rather do that than deal with the consequences of not doing it (we get to choose our own actions, but not the consequences or how others will respond) and that’s totally fine. But like your reasons. And if you DO choose to get together, own it. Realize you’re making a choice. Feeling like you HAVE to do something is completely disempowering.
If you choose to go, how do you make family get togethers a little less intense?
1) Allow others to be wrong about you.
This takes a mind shift, but it's worth the effort, because it will change your life.
Your sister-in-law totally doesn't get what it's like to have a kid like yours, and she is sure the problem is you. She lets you know this by telling you you’re doing it all wrong. She criticizes you to her husband and siblings and mother. If you stopped working, paid more attention to your kids, stayed consistent, offered more punishments… .
There are a few reasons this hurts so much. We deeply want to feel understood and supported. We want to feel accepted, like we’re ok, like we’re enough. There may even be a teeny tiny part of you that wonders if she’s right about some of it. It makes you question yourself and your value and your worthiness.
I get it. But, stay with me here.
Why is it a problem that she thinks you’re a bad parent?
In some ways, it makes total sense that she thinks that. She truly doesn’t get it. She’s never been in your position. Her kids don’t have the same challenges yours do. She’s applying her own life experiences to your completely different life. This is really all about her and her kids, and not at all about you or your kids.
It’s ok if this hurts initially. Of course it hurts. If it gets too much, step out and catch your breath. Process the pain, the anger.
But, did you know that whatever sister-in-law says to you, however she treats you, is your circumstance? Those things can’t have any effect on you at all. It is your THOUGHTS ABOUT what she says or does that have an effect on you. What hurts is all the things you are making her actions mean. So after you have taken a moment and processed, you can choose to think something less painful if you want to.
Try on thoughts like these:
· The reason she thinks these things about me says absolutely NOTHING about me and everything about her.
· She doesn’t need to think I’m a good parent, I think I’m a good parent.
· It’s totally ok for her to be wrong about me.
· My value, and my kids’ value, is fixed and does not fluctuate based on her opinions.
2) Expect that people will show up as themselves
If mother-in-law is always critical, expect that she will remain critical. People don’t change the way they interact with others very often, so know it’s probably coming. Once again, that is about HER, not about you.
When mother-in-law starts, you can tell yourself, “Ah, there it is. This is the part where mother-in-law says critical things.” And then rather than getting angry or offended, try getting curious and compassionate. Ask yourself:
· I wonder why she’s like that?
· What self-inadequacies is she responding to?
· What happened in her life that is causing her to show up like this?
3) Watch out for mirroring
It is human nature to mirror one another. If someone says something we interpret as judgmental, we are usually judgmental right back. If one person gets tense, everyone else in the room gets tense. These are automatic brain responses. But your pre-frontal cortex can override them. We can stop the tension or anger or criticism in their tracks by changing the way we react.
4) Ask yourself how you can love harder
Did you know that you can completely transform your relationship with this “difficult” family member yourself -- even if they never change?
Your relationship with anyone else does not exist BETWEEN you. Each of your relationships is made up solely of your thoughts about the other person. And also, they can have a completely different relationship with you than you have with them – because their thoughts about you are completely different than your thoughts about them.
This is probably blowing your mind right now, and it’s likely you don’t believe me. Watch out for an upcoming blog post explaining why this is so.
But in the meantime, choose loving thoughts about this person. Why? Because love always feels better than dislike or hate or indifference or anger or pretty much any other emotion. Love always feels amazing. Love this other person for you, not for them.
With small, simple mindshifts, we can get through the holidays with less pain and more love. As always, if this is too much for you to do alone, find a coach to help.