How to cope with your annoying relatives, according to a psychologist

Dr Tim Sharp

The 9 mind tricks you need to navigate family tension – so you don’t crack.

In an ideal world, we’d love all our family members and look forward to spending as much time as possible with each and every one of them.

In the real world, however, this isn’t always the case!

Many of us have an “eccentric” uncle, or an aunt who enjoys a few too many wines, or just an irritating sibling or cousin who asks totally inappropriate and infuriating questions (about your work or your relationships or all those things you’d rather not talk about).

That’s life; and it’s a reality of life that during the festive season we tend to have more family gatherings and therefore more interactions with these people who normally, we’d spend minimal time with.

It might not be what we’d choose to do, and it might not always be fun, but it is something we need to manage. The good news is there are ways to minimise distress and maximise your chances of actually enjoying yourself this Christmas.

Here are my practical and powerful tips:

  1. Be prepared

Forewarned is forearmed. More often than not you know these people, you know how they’ll behave and you know what might well upset you. So, there’ll rarely be any surprises! Try to predict what might happen, and imagine the best possible outcome including you coping well.

  1. Use your strengths

We all have natural talents and attributes that can help us cope with adversity. These include gratitude and humour, social intelligence and forgiveness. Whatever yours are, find ways to use them.

  1. Ask them to stop

You can, of course, directly request the cessation of unwanted or unpleasant behaviours. This won’t always be successful, but it’s definitely worth considering in some situations.

  1. Limit your interactions with certain people

This applies to both the number of them and their duration. You don’t have to spend all day with those relatives you don’t like. Say hello, politely ask a few appropriate questions, then move on to others who you’re more likely to have fun with.

  1. Accept them for who they are

Stop trying to change them or expecting them to change – your relative has probably been the way they are all their lives and they’ll most likely stay that way. So, accept that and try to focus on whatever positive characteristics they possess.

  1. Avoid certain topics

There’s no point torturing yourself and so there’s no point entering in to conversations or debates that will only lead to you feeling frustrated or upset. Accordingly, steer clear of these subjects and/or redirect them on to something less adversarial if or when they do pop up.

  1. Choose your battles

Following on from the previous point, you don’t have to join every argument. And, even if you do get involved, you don’t have to win! Let them be right about some things – you never know, it might actually make for a more festive gathering.

  1. You can’t control what others do/say, only how you react

This is possibly the most important point to remember, in any situation. No matter how well you implement any or all of the strategies described, this won’t necessarily have total or maybe any impact on how your relatives behave. Regardless, you can always control how YOU behave and ultimately, that’s all that matters.

  1. At the end of the day, the end of the day will come

So remember that even if unpleasant, nothing lasts forever. Keep calm and enjoy the show.

Dr Tim Sharp aka Dr Happy is at the forefront of the positive psychology movement and founder of The Happiness Institute.

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