Thanksgiving with Difficult Relatives
Are you about to reunite with difficult relatives this Thanksgiving? For some of us, the thought of passing the gravy to that obnoxious uncle, competitive cousin or insufferable sibling induces a feeling of dread. If you’re wishing the holidays away because of a difficult family member, here are some self-coaching strategies to help you cope.
As much as you’d like your Annoying Aunt Nellie to change, her behavior is beyond your control. What if, instead of wasting your mental energy wishing for her to change, you could teach yourself a strategy to tolerate her better?
Picture your annoying aunt as an overblown caricature of her most irritating attributes. What would she look like as a vivid character in a children’s book or movie? Amplify her personality flaws, embellish her appearance and carry this image around as an inside joke in your own mind. When Aunt Nellie starts jabbering at dinner, picture her inflating like Harry Potter’s Aunt Marge. Use the power of your imagination (and a slightly sick sense of humor), and Annoying Aunt Nellie becomes a little less dreadful. Possibly, even, slightly endearing.
Ask yourself what your unpleasant relative might be thinking and feeling that would cause such obnoxious behavior. Is it possible your mother-in-law, who plays the martyr and points out everything-she’s-ever-done-for-this-family, is grasping for love because she feels so unlovable? Perhaps that judgmental relative is looking for other people to criticize in order to avoid stewing in her own self-loathing.
The truth is, you get to choose the stories you tell yourself about your relatives. Why not choose to tell compassionate stories? Compassion doesn’t mean you dismiss or tolerate horrible behavior, or even that you fully understand the motives driving it. Compassion is simply your generous attempt to recognize the suffering that drives other people’s negative actions. Compassion doesn’t fix other people’s hard edges, but it does make your own heart just a little softer.
DECIDE HOW YOU WANT TO SHOW UP
You may not get to choose your family, but you do get to decide how you want to show up so you don’t resemble the worst of them. You might even choose not to show up at all, or to step away from the family drama when relatives act like turkeys.
To show up as your best self:
1) Set healthy boundaries and consequences to teach difficult relatives how they may or may not treat you.
2) Rehearse ahead of time how you’ll respond to words and behaviors that push your buttons.
3) Decide how you want to show up. Picture how your best self, or someone wise whom you admire, would act around your negative relative.
When relatives ruffle your Thanksgiving feathers, focus on your own response. This is how you maintain your peace and power.
Wendy Connelly, M.Div., is a mother of two, podcaster and Christian life coach who helps moms embrace their emotions and transform their thoughts to become more joyful. Find her at MoJoForMoms.com.