You love your family, but let’s face it: sometimes they can drive you crazy. Some relatives are downright toxic to be with. The overcritical aunt who has a knack for sandwiching a compliment between two cutting insults. The clingy mother who makes you feel guilty, somehow, for actually having your own life. The bossy brother who likes to act like he knows everything, and has everything. The mother-in-law who is never happy! You probably have your own list of difficult family members, but how do you deal with them—especially during family reunions?
Family reunions are loaded with expectations. Somehow, we hope (or wish) that our get-togethers would be like those Norman Rockwell paintings or Hallmark card sentiments—lots of hugs, big smiles, and loving faces bathed in candlelight. In fact, most of the stress of family reunions comes from trying to make it reach that expectation, or being frustrated or guilty that it doesn’t.
So let go of that standard. Your family is, well, your family. It’s not perfect, but no family is—and if yours is more dysfunctional than others, tell yourself over and over again that other people’s opinions and behaviors are not your problem. You can only manage what you feel and do, and how they affect you.
Avoid triggers and timebombs
If you know that your parents are going to say something nasty about your job, then steer conversation away from it—or leave the table, under the pretense of checking on the kids or going to the bathroom, if you feel that the conversation is heading that way. And when your aunt starts saying stuff about your weight, and you feel particularly sensitive about it, then change the subject. Come armed to the reunion with loads of celebrity gossip—that should be enough to keep everyone entertained.
Boost your mood
If you’re tired and emotional, you’re vulnerable to anything that anyone says. So rest, and engage in activities or things that make you feel happy and good about yourself. So, if someone says something nasty, you can just tune him out—go to your inner happy place, so to speak—and tell yourself, ‘I don’t need you to like who I am, I’m perfectly okay right now.’ Learn, also, to tune other people out, and come up with prepared comments that can help neutralize a conversation so you don’t get sucked into an argument. ‘Well, that’s something to consider.’ Or, ‘I suppose that’s how you feel about it.’
Know it’s not about them
Other people only mirror our hidden fears and anxieties. For example, if you’re insecure about the way you look, your aunt’s comment about your weight will hit at a sensitive spot—and echo, perhaps, thoughts you’ve entertained about yourself. Or, if you’re not sure about your life’s calling, your dad’s comments about your job will make you feel defensive, because you’re afraid to think that you made the wrong decision about joining that company.
So instead of reacting violently to what other people say, observe and reflect on your reactions: ‘Why does that matter so much to me? How can they help me become more aware of myself, my emotions, and what I’m afraid of?’
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