You can choose your friends
You can choose your friends by Lesley McCall
But You Can’t Choose Your Family!
So, tell me, when I say words like ‘Family’ or ‘Christmas’ what do you do? Smile and enjoy that warm cosy feeling that overtakes you? Or reach for the nearest bottle of wine? If you have wonderful relations and in laws and your mother never tells you where you are going wrong then congratulations and turn to the next article – I hear it’s very interesting. If, like me, some of your nearest and dearest are challenging at times then welcome to normal! By the way I have made sure that none of my family read this as they might just recognise themselves in one or two of these descriptions and I want a peaceful Christmas!
The thing about families is that all relationships are set when we are young and our rational side hasn’t developed yet. This means that we tend to fall into old patterns and routines – many of which are no longer true and actually can be upsetting. You can see this when, for example, adult siblings fight.
They slip into ‘child’ mode – you can notice their speech and body language becomes childish and however old they are suddenly they are back to slapping hands and you can almost hear the echoes of ‘muuuuuuum’ . In the same way it’s hard to be grown up when parents disapprove – I for one turn sulky and resentful (much to the amusement of my husband- though he can talk!!) So how do we break the old grudges/anger/conflict that seems to come up to the surface when we are all together ‘having fun ‘!!
I find that I am busiest in the months leading up to Christmas. Many clients are dreading it and find the stress too much to cope with. It’s not surprising that enforced proximity and high expectations lead to trouble. It seems to bring out the worst in some people when we are trapped with everyone determined to have the ‘perfect Christmas’. Cracks in family unity are put under pressure and sometimes blow up in our faces.
In order to help I have complied a small list of types of ‘challenging’ relative and some ideas as to how to deal with them without resorting to violence !
The Passive/aggressive ‘Victim’
No family would be complete without one of these. You know the type:
‘Oh don’t worry about me – my opinion isn’t important’
‘No I can’t do that my back is bad – but please do go and have fun without me.
They seem to manage to get their own way all the time simply by playing the victim. We have all seen them ensconced in the best chair by the fire at everyone’s insistence (No the stool in the kitchen is fine for me – It doesn’t matter if I am comfortable as long as you all are – I wouldn’t dream of it – well if it makes you all happy- sigh) or not taking a chocolate ‘in case there isn’t enough for everyone else’ protesting until everyone practically force feeds them the whole box.
Make no mistake – this is manipulation pure and simple – it’s all about getting their own way. So no wonder it leaves us feeling angry and helpless. However there is a way of dealing with this without resorting to violence or a massive argument.
The way to challenge a passive aggressive is to play them at their own game (it also has the advantage of being very very funny to watch). All you need to do is bounce their words back at them.
‘Why do you feel your opinion is not important?’
‘Why do you not feel that you deserve the comfy chair?’ ‘Why is what you want not important?’
All said with a concerned expression and a deeply sympathetic voice? I’m sure you get the picture …. This is an excellent way of challenging their manipulation under the guise of sympathy, and there is absolutely no way they can argue because, after all, you are only worried about them, aren’t you? Evil I know but you cannot imagine how much it brightens up a boring afternoon if you get really good at it! Plus it does tend to train them out of it after a while.
The Little Rain Cloud
This is the person who brings their own brand of gloom and despair to any gathering. Their illnesses are worst, their job more boring, and their family more ungrateful than anyone else. In fact it can become a competition – whatever anyone else has going wrong they are worse – nobody can possibly understand how bad their life is. In fact they simply love to bore everyone with their miseries – again and again and again. As a friend of mine once said ‘I don’t mind people dumping on me as long as it stays dumped’ quite right!
Now apart from kidnapping them and taking them to a therapist there is not much you can do to change them. They obviously enjoy their misery and see nothing wrong in spreading a little far and wide. If they are a member of your family or extended family they can be hard to avoid but that doesn’t mean that you have to put up with it!
So here’s one suggestion. In response to everything they say you respond with a positive.
‘Its horrible weather again’ ‘Yes but isn’t the world a beautiful place ‘
‘My rheumatism is playing up again’ ‘I’m so sorry to hear that but how wonderful to be here amongst family’ Etc. Etc. Etc.
If you keep this up then they will either cheer up or shut up. Relentless cheerfulness is the perfect antidote to wallowing in misery.
The One Who Is ALWAYS Right
Couldn’t you just bang your head against a wall when they start? Telling everyone how it should be. Arguing with them is fruitless because they KNOW.
This boils down to what we in NLP call Model of the World. Everyone has their own idea of what the world is and how it should be – and some people are a bit more vocal and less tolerant about it than others. Insulting someone else’s MOTW is rude – we are all attached to our own view. We all believe that our view is the ‘true’ one but not all of us are so determined that everyone else should agree.
So no point as I said in arguing because you will never change their mind – they are too deeply attached to be reasonable. Just ask yourself ‘What’s that all about? Why are they so desperate to be right? So aggressive about it?’ The answer is often insecurity in some form. What would happen if they weren’t right? Would they cope? In analysing what their problem is you can detach from the emotion. Instead of feeling annoyed you can feel sympathetic – or at least try! If they persist you could always say – quietly ‘I understand that’s what you believe and I respect your opinion – However I have a different opinion and I hope you will respect mine’. If that doesn’t work keep asking them why it is so important to them that you agree with them.
The Person Who Always Did It Better Than You
I never realized what a genius I was until I had children. According to my mother I was brilliant, well behaved and never naughty. She only realized this when I had kids.
‘My children never did that ‘ I am sure mothers don’t do it to be cruel but I know I am not the only one who has had this weird competition thing going on with their mother/ mother-in-law. They don’t seem to realize that what they are actually saying is ‘I was a better mother than you’.
It’s not just restricted to mothers obviously but this one-upmanship can be so irritating in anybody. The best response is probably humour (laced with a little bit of sarcasm- after all we are only human)
‘Wow really? And did I have a little blue suit with an S on it as well?’ ‘REALLY? GOSH? That’s AMAZING ‘
Alternatively if you can bring yourself to be kind
‘Well I’m not surprised – you are fabulous’
This will have the benefit of giving them what they want so they will be happy and hopefully shut up.
Perfectionism is a disease – it is a way of punishing yourself and sometimes others. If you set the bar unreachably high then you will fail and blame yourself. Have high goals but not impossible ones. Challenging yourself is one thing punishing yourself for not achieving the unachievable is another.
So when the perfectionist in your family says something like
‘It should be like this ‘or ‘aren’t you going to do it like this? ‘, breathe, smile and gently challenge the assumption ‘Why? Who says it HAS to be like that? ‘ Chances are they won’t have a logical answer and if you keep asking that question it might make them think about their own assumptions – or at the very least go and bug someone else – either way – job done !
Irritating as these types of people are don’t forget they probably don’t do it deliberately – in fact they might be completely unaware of the effect they have on other people. So be kind and understanding when you can – especially if its family and don’t forget – we have the rest of our lives to get it right with the people we love.