Difficult Family Members

We all want our home to be our sanctuary…a place where we can be ourselves and experience peace, happiness and love. But, sometimes the people in our life make that difficult. Jealously, in-fighting, moodiness, gossiping, nagging, nit-picking and other small and large behaviors can make being with loved ones near impossible. Even if the difficult family members live elsewhere, the ramifications of their words and actions can be felt miles away and can take years to get over.

Always remember that difficult people are good for you, but they’re not necessarily good to you! In other words, their purpose is to help you look at yourself and decide who you want to become. You’re going to change with time anyway; difficult people simply help make you more aware of what direction you decide to go in your own life.

When you have a difficult person in your life, you often feel like you don’t have any power in the situation. However, with a little self-reflection, understanding and decision-making, you can make the most of any difficult relationship. Following are a few suggestions for maintaining harmony in your life.

Trust your feelings.
When you’re at work, you’re usually in a fact-based world where feelings have little merit. If someone hurts your feelings, the normal practice is to keep it to yourself and push through your work. While that approach may be correct for the workplace, it’s a recipe for disaster in your personal life.

At home, feelings reign supreme. Home is where your emotions belong, where you need to trust your feelings and listen to what your heart tells you. If someone in your personal life hurts your feelings or you have a difficult relationship, it is always best to tell the other person, as that’s the only way to discover how you both really feel. Keeping your emotions bottled up and pushing through your daily routine only breeds resentment and can lead to lies. Therefore, listen to what your feelings tell you, and then caringly and gently approach the difficult person in a non-confrontational way.

For example, if a sibling or in-law nit-picks on things that you do or say, don’t be rude or criticize them back. That always is a sure formula to make things worse. Put the focus on your feelings by saying, “I respect your opinion, and I do care about you and your input in my life, but is there a way we can both be different without the difference causing more differences?” Involve the other party in the resolution process so you can both take responsibility for your actions.

Take responsibility for the relationship.
If you’re having a problem with someone, stop and look at your role in the relationship. Are you playing the “tit for tat,” “forgive but not forget,” “two wrongs can make a right” game? Are you bringing up touchy subjects or doing things that you know will set the other person off?

Remember that every relationship is a two-way street; therefore, it’s time to look at how you may be contributing to the difficult behavior. Be honest with yourself. Do you have some underlying feelings or resentment that the other person is bringing out that you need to address? Relationships are often like a mirror. The difficult person is merely reflecting something you don’t like in yourself. Really listen to what the other person is saying or analyze what they’re doing. Look deep. Why are their words or actions rubbing you the wrong way and hurting your feelings? Is this person reflecting something you don’t like about yourself? Don’t expect people to like you when you don’t like them.

Commit to learning from every relationship.
Every difficult person in your life is actually helping you learn something you can use for your future. For example, suppose you have a mother who constantly yells, screams and throws tantrums when things don’t go her way. You certainly don’t like being around her when she does this, so you make a mental note that you’ll never act like that when you’re in a stressful situation. Later, when you find yourself in a stressful predicament, even if you do feel like yelling, you immediately think of the person you don’t want to become and you calm  down.

This is called learning by opposite. When someone is displaying a behavior you don’t like, you become more aware of what you want to do and who you want to become as you progress through life. Learning by opposite is very powerful. So, rather than let the difficult people frustrate you, see them as teachers who are helping to shape you into the person you want to become.Know when to walk away. During your workday, you have no choice but to deal with a difficult co-worker or boss. In fact, it is commonplace to have difficult people within the workplace. And no matter how difficult someone is, your boss won’t fire someone just because you don’t like him or her. In your home life, though, you can “fire” someone simply for being difficult. In fact, it’s your responsibility to make those tough choices of who is going to be a part of your life and who you’re going to remove.

Realize that if you decide to put some emotional and/or physical distance between you and a family member, this doesn't mean you don’t love each other. You can still care about someone deeply but choose not to interact with him or her as often as you had in the past. The key is to do what’s right for you. If it is good for you to remove yourself, it will be good for the other person too.

If someone constantly attacks your self-esteem and promotes added stress in your life, you have to decide whether that stress is acceptable. If it’s not, and if the person shows no sign of caring or changing, it’s up to you to keep yourself safe. Not feeling safe emotionally and mentally can be harmful and in certain instances even become life threatening. That means you need to remove the person from your life. Yes, others in your life may criticize you for this decision, but ultimately you have to take care of yourself and your emotional well-being first. 

Ditch the Difficulties.
Difficult relationships are a part of life. The key is how you choose to deal with them. Either you can let the difficult person control your life and make you miserable, or you can take responsibility, work for a resolution, make the tough choices and, ultimately, learn some lessons. As you think about the relationships in your life, remember that happiness is not always attainable, but peacefulness is. Therefore, aim for peaceful relationships rather than happy ones. The more peace and tranquillity you bring to yourself, the more peace you can offer to others.

Jill Cook-Richards is a life coach and counselor. She is a regular columnist for several magazines and has spoken to all types of companies, corporations and associations. She has also worked in television, radio and the movie industry. She is the author of the upcoming book, “How to Heal Any Relationship from A to Z.”