How to Deal with Difficult People


Home for the Holidays: Your Survival Guide

Home for the Holidays: How to Survive the Holidays with Your Family

This recent Thanksgiving with extended family was not the Norman Rockwell picture that some of you may have experienced. The father-in-law of my niece was present and decided to poll everyone on who they voted for in this past election and would not be deterred or detoured off the topic. When that fell flat, he then decided to grill a family member on why that person married their spouse of 40 years and how accepting the family was of the spouse. Let’s just throw gasoline on that fire.

Some of you may have parents and family who have supported you 100% throughout your entire evolution.  They smiled when you got the Mohawk and dyed your hair purple in 8th grade, applauded when you dropped out of college to hitchhike through India, yelled, “Congratulations!” when you announced you were seriously dating someone 25 years older than you, and were the first in line to buy shares in the butterfly farm you developed in South America.

If that is your family, then this blog is not for you.

However, most of us have families who, though well meaning and loving, consciously or unconsciously tried to hold us back from becoming the person we needed to be.  They might have been subtle or blatant.  They might have shamed us, badgered us, withheld funds or love – all in an attempt to shape us into who they thought we should be.  And maybe you chose to live half way across the country from them so that you could finally spread your wings.  But now, you are heading home for the holidays.  You’ll be breaking bread at Thanksgiving or lighting the menorah for Hanukkah or opening presents under the Christmas tree with these same folks. 

Not in the top ten items on your bucket list, right?

Yet, on the flip side, these people do love you in their way and you do love them in your way.  So how can you survive or even enjoy this time together?  Here are a few tips.

4 Tips for Family Holiday Survival

1.  Pre-pave with Forgiveness

So knowing you’ll be seeing some folks that have been difficult for you, prepare yourself.  Rather than focusing on how irksome they still might be and how you can “defend”, spend some time using whatever forgiveness process works best for you.  Everything you see, everything you hear, every person you meet, you experience in your mind.  You only think it is “out there” and you think that absolves you of responsibility.  In fact, it is the opposite:  You are responsible for everything you think and everything that comes to your attention.

My insight that the above father-in-law is probably anxious and not very self-confident when he is out of his element gives me some compassion into his intrusive comments and topics of conversation. 

2.  Tell a New Story

Basically, take a situation and experience it from a totally different perspective.  For example, think of an incident from your past with one of your difficult relatives that still irks or upsets you.  Now, image that same incident, but put your relative in a duck costume.  See them waddling around, flapping their arms as they do whatever they did back then.  Give them a Daffy Duck voice as they speak to you and add silly sound effects.  Make this image of them as bright, colorful and big as you can. 

Trust me:  If you spend some time playing with your new, ridiculous version of the hurtful incident, the charge you will feel will start to disappear.  And you may even have some new insights into what was really going on at the time.

3.  Don’t Take It Personally

Everyone interprets life through their own filters and their own assumptions.  What another person sees in you has more to do with who they are than who you are.  When Uncle Warren insists that you’re a fool for trying to start your own business and that you should get a real job with benefits, he’s talking about his own fears and limitations, not yours.   My advice taken from Melody Beattie is: Feel what you feel, know what you know, and set your relatives free to do the same.  When you really start to understand this, rather than feeling insulted by what Uncle Warren has to say, you might instead feel curious and may even be able to enter into an interesting conversation about why he feels the way he does.

4.  Bring Yourself to the Party

Have you ever noticed that you can revert to who you were as a child when you return to the friends and family of your childhood?  We all learned to “play our part” in the family dynamic as children.  We were “the nice one”, “the smart one”, “the one who comforted mom.”  Whatever role we took on, we got really good at it.  Like riding a bike, our ability to play that part is still available and, when we go back home, we can slip into those old roles automatically.

As adults, we have grown and changed, hopefully, becoming more of who we really are.  Prepare yourself to enter your old family environment by reminding yourself of who you have become.  Make two columns on a sheet of paper, one titled, “Who I Was” and the other titled “Who I Have Become.”  Jot down the different characteristics of each. 

Now take it a step further by personifying those characteristics.  For example, if you were “timid,” what posture reflects that quality?  And now that you are “self-assured,” feel how that posture is different.  Do you speak differently?  Have different eye contact?  Note your “befores” and “afters” so that you can catch yourself when you slip into your old roles.

Just like giving an important presentation or getting ready for a big date, the key is in the preparation, not for the worst outcome of your family holiday gatherings, but the best possible outcome. 

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Building Intimacy is Vital in Marriage

Why Building Intimacy in Marriage is Vital

The hardest quality to build into a marriage is intimacy, both sexual and psychological. Our culture over the last 25 years has emphasized the sexual at the expense of the psychological.

Intimacy is a fundamental need for human beings.  It means being able to share our innermost self with someone else and having that sharing reciprocated.  In watching what damages marriage, I am most impressed that withholding who we are and how we react has become the kiss of death.

We are very fragile to injury in relationships in which we feel the most vulnerable.  Many people try to control the level of intimacy because of fear of being hurt.  For most of us, the single, deepest experience of being known in all our strengths and flaws is in the marital relationship.

How to develop and strengthen marital intimacy deserves the attention of both parties.  Many people feel they are not finding the fulfillment they had hoped for in their marriage.  They have a sense of aloneness, emptiness or just something missing.  You may also be married to someone who does not need the same degree of intimacy that you do.  What can be done about this?

Some questions to ask are:  “How well do we know ourselves?” and “How have we felt our spouse has responded to us?”  In my experience as a psychologist, the reluctance to report our reactions to each other hinders marital growth.  Now some things will always remain trivial and do not deserve your verbal reactions, e.g., how your spouse manages a household chore is probably not worth talking about unless it consistently irritates you.

When expectations are unconscious, uncommunicated, unrealistic, or unreasonable, you can feel betrayed when you have not been.  You need to examine the validity of your own expectations about a relationship.  You may have wanted or expected something from another person, but he or she never agreed to give it.  Believing that if your spouse really loved you, he/she should be able to read your mind or that partners in “good” relationships rarely disagree are myths.

What you do with irritation is crucial.  Many times the temptation arises to blow such reactions off, but the resentment barometer rises.  The debris of irritation can collect into a sturdy pile.  Given sufficient time, enough material can get between partners that the distance increases and the silence becomes very telling.

Read more:

Young Couple Sitting on Love Seat

Communication Dead Zone

The Communication Dead Zone: What to Do When Your Partner Refuses to Talk

I don’t want to talk about it.”  Few sentences conjure up as much feeling for the listener as hearing this refusal to talk.  Such a commitment to silence often dooms a relationship, whether between a husband and wife, or child and parent.  The listener feels so very frustrated in not knowing what to do next.

4 Tips to Break a Communication Deadlock

The following are several suggestions to change this communication deadlock.

1. The listener needs to drop the desire to pursue the refused topic.

No jackhammer or psychological technique will open up someone committed to silence on a particular area. If the listener realizes the topic itself is far less important than the reasons for not talking, it is easier to move away from a concentration on whatever the “it” is.

2. It is logical and important to focus on the reasons for not wanting to talk. 

The listener is advised not to badger the other, but rather to offer several possibilities as a way of learning what is stiffing communication. It is worth exploring whether there is a conviction on the silent one’s part that talking about it just won’t do any good. There are many people who really believe that talk is unnecessary because actions speak louder than words. This confusing logic suggests talking is not a behavior.  More importantly, though, how has the conviction that conversation is futile been reached?  Usually there are some specific experiences that have driven this point home and talking about those experiences may help resolve and offer a different perspective to the present decision to remain silent. Others believe that silence is golden if the alternative is to hurt someone’s feelings. It is up to the listener to determine if he or she would rather be ignorant and blissful or learn some painful bad news.  Ordinarily knowing what is wrong is easier to deal with than being left in the dark. Another possibility is that the refusal to talk is in reality a statement of anger.  If this is the case, then asking the speaker to elaborate on his resentment becomes the pertinent topic.  A final possibility is that the speaker is unclear and unsure of what exactly his or her reasons are to avoid discussions.  The listener can reassure the other that he or she is willing to be tolerant of the fuzziness or the lack of eloquence in the spoken word because the message itself is worth working on no matter how plainly and/or foggily put.

3. The listener can promote communication, even with this deadlock, by talking about his/her reaction to this impasse. 

It is natural that the first response to being closed out is an angry one, but it becomes important to go beyond that to elaborate on the sense of hurt that this isolation brings.  There is nothing as persuasive to opening up as the experience of seeing another person sincerely reveal himself or herself.

4. The listener concluding this interaction with a willingness to listen at another time, at least puts in the other's mind the chance that a time for talking is possible in the future. 

Sometimes fatigue or stress can make it difficult to open up.

In summary, gentle focus on “I don’t want to talk about it,” remains important.


The Role of Friendship in Rebuilding a Relationship

The Role of Friendship in Rebuilding a Relationship: A Strong Foundation

Do you know anyone whose relationship fell apart and then months later came together again? It happens quite frequently and if you were to run a microscope over their relationship, you would most likely find one common thread – friendship. Not common friends, although they can help. We’re talking about friendship with each other.

Rebuild Your Relationship by Going Back to the Beginning

You would be surprised to see that most of these reunited couples did so by going through a getting-to-know-you dating process first. And it can work, if friendship is there from both sides. What is more interesting is the success rates of these renewed relationships – they have a very good track record. There are a lot of psychological issues at play and  many clichés that run true, remember, “absence makes the heart grow fonder”, or “the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence,” that is until you get there.

There is often one far more important issue at play – and that is maturity. Often, the first time around was more a love/lust relationship than one based on friendship. The second time around, being more mature, and with friendship as the base, the relationship has a much better chance of success – and happiness.

Is your partner your best friend? He or she should be. Close friends can talk to each other often without fear of retribution. Sure, best friends argue, and they may even go through a period of not talking to each other, but somehow, over time, they mend their bruised egos and the friendship reforms. You can do the same with your relationship if you are prepared to take it slowly, and to start by becoming the very best of friends.  If you need help, give us a call.


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