Family drama is difficult no matter who you are. It’s awkward to attend family events when you’re not on talking terms with one or more of your family members and can be a great source of anxiety for all parties involved. Family drama is also challenging for those who are not directly involved in it, as they are often expected to take sides or play a role in mediating. A lot of the time, people end up estranging from family members that cause them grief; however, this may not always sit well with an individual and lead to long-term anxiety. So, how can you deal with people in your life that you may not want around in your life, but are forced to deal with because they are family?
- Don’t try to change the difficult person. It can be extremely tempting to try to modify the behaviours in another individual that you find damaging to the relationship, but remember that change has to come from within an individual. Moreover, your idea of what needs changing in another person may not be objective given your interest in the relationship. So, step #1 would be to accept your family member for who they are and work on the relationship given this reality.
- Don’t lose your calm. Know that you may be set off by a family member that you do not get along with. Try to avoid a fight or flight response, which will often exacerbate a heated discussion. Stay focused on how you respond and realize that an argument can reach the point of no return, meaning that it becomes just about winning. At that point, you should leave the conversation.
- Try to remain neutral. This may become difficult if you feel attacked, but try to listen rather than engage. This might provide the other party with an opportunity to say what’s on their mind. Being respectful can form the foundations to build a common ground.
- Watch for trigger topics. Based on your previous experiences, know which topics can pave the way for a heated discussion. Either avoid those topics to the best of your ability, or try to deflect them tactfully if they do happen to come up. If you are forced to confront one of these trigger topics, be prepared to address it in a direct and non-confrontational way.
- Know that it’s usually not about you. Although it’s hard not to take things personally, especially when you are made to feel responsible for someone else, know that the personal attacks stem from the attacker’s emotional response. If you have been through this kind of interaction before, make a concerted effort to nip the conflict in the bud.
Ultimately, know that your own well-being comes first. While you want to be respectful and attentive to your family member, you also don’t want to bend over backwards just to please someone else or keep the peace. Don’t allow these adverse interactions to challenge your own well-being. And, during family gatherings for special occasions, try to surround yourself with people that you get along with and who you feel care about you, while limiting your interactions with the toxic individuals that create anxiety in your life.