How to Deal With Problem Family Members Without Losing Your Mind

Creative Commons License photo credit: ju-leo

“You cannot change someone’s point of view using logic if they did not arrive at that point of view using logic.” – Unknown

Everyone has a problem family member. For some it is the strange uncle you don’t leave alone with the children. For others is is a well-intentioned but desperately overbearing mother-in-law. And although the way in which they are a problem may vary, one thing we all share in common is that we struggle to deal with them in a healthy and productive way. In this post I am going to show you a few things I have learned over the years about dealing with problem family members without losing your mind.

Wear the amour of patience
If you don’t have a lot of patience the process of working with and sorting out a problem family member is going to be tough. If you don’t have patience you are going to want to pack up and run away and never see them again. And for a while that might seem like a good idea. Maybe it is. But new problem family members are always going to pop up. So you need to wear the armor of patience, eventually.

Patience is considered the king of all virtues. The reason for this is because it is the antidote and cure to anger which is considered the king of all vices. When it comes to problem family members it is so important to be patient because otherwise you end up dealing with situations by getting angry. And nothing good ever comes from anger.

Anger sows the seeds of discord in a relationship. If you respond in an angry way to a intrusive mother-in-law she will be more likely to return fire with anger. And it escalates. Soon everyone is hot under the collar and family gatherings are completely intolerable because everyone is so tense and nervous.

When you deal with family members using anger you damage your ability to meaningfully communicate. It is quite simple. When you approach someone with what you feel is a genuine issue and they respond in anger you lose trust in that person. The same goes with family. If you respond to their behavior or opinions with anger they will be less likely to meaningfully communicate with you. And then the doors of problem solving are closed for good. Make sure you always respond with patience.

Listen. Actually listen
Have you ever taken the time to actually listen to someone? Ever seen how much more they tell you and how honest they can be when they think that you are really trying to understand? This is an important point to realize if you want to deal with a problem family member.

A lot of the time when we “listen” to people we just wait for our turn to talk. Our mind is not focused on what they are saying but rather it is wandering off thinking about all the ways we can retaliate or it is internally gossiping about how stupid this person is. But it we sat there and actually listened to the person the scenario might become more workable.

The next time your problem family member is trying to express something make sure you listen. Don’t just wait for your turn to talk. Actually listen. Hear what they are saying and try to ascertain the meaning behind their words. If you truly understand their position you might be able to reach some agreement.

Separate the person from their behavior
When I was going through college I worked in a child care center. In this center I had to deal with the worst of spoiled children and their ignorant parents. At least once a week there would be a confrontation where a parent accused the center of doing something horrid to their brat of a child. It was during these times I learned to separate the person from the person’s behavior.

Let me explain this a little bit. There is a person and then there is the person’s behavior. If you want to get through to someone you need to separate the person from their behavior. I’ll give you an example. Let’s say your brother-in-law is being a jerk. Instead of saying, “man you are being a jerk” why not say, “your behavior is really offensive”. A subtle change but it works.

When your separate the person from their behavior it gives them a chance to detach themselves from it. If, on the other hand, you just attack the person they will get all defensive and attack you back. Remembering to do this in the heat of the moment can be hard, but it is well worth it if you can.

Keep the volume of your voice low
If you look at any good debater you will see that they stay calm and collected and they keep the volume of their voice low. This is not an accident. It is a critical element of winning an argument.

If you raise your voice the person you are yelling at will also raise their voice. Then in order to be heard you raise your voice a little more. Then they do the same. Before you know it an otherwise adult conversation has turned in to a shouting match where everyone is angry and pissed off.

If, however, you keep your the volume of your voice low it forces the other person to listen. It draws them in somewhat. But it also keeps you calm and keeping calm allows you to think straight. When you shout your adrenalin levels get all screwed up and you lose your ability to think rationally and form logical arguments. Keep your voice low at all times and project control.

Don’t think about it too much
When you have an argument with family it hurts. It always seems to cut deeper than any other argument. For this reason we tend to think about it a lot after the argument has finished. This is a bad idea.

Going over things in your head over and over never solves problems. If you have just had a serious argument with your mother you will no doubt be upset and searching for answers. But I can assure you that these answers won’t come from from thinking through the argument again and again in your head. This gets you no where.

Next time you are worried about a problem family member or have just had an argument with them just let it go. Once they have left just relax with a cup of tea and maybe some television and just let it go. Don’t play the scenario out in your head. Don’t try to think of a solution. Just let it go. Most of the time you will find that the issue resolves itself in time and this time you won’t have wasted a lot of energy worrying about it.

Remember, they are family
Finally I think it is important to remember that this problem family member is still a part of your family. It is not some stranger on the street trying to steal your wallet. It is not your self-loving boss at work who thinks ruining your day is hilarious. It is your family. Give them the time, patience and respect that they deserve.

Does anyone here have a problem family member?

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