What To Do About Difficult Family Members Around The Holidays

by Kahlia Meeuwsen, Relationships Columnist


Published in Relationships on 13th October, 2018


As we gear up for the holiday season, there's a sense of warmth and family in the air. Many of us are excited to spend time with those we love, catching up and celebrating the end of another year. However, you may not be excited about seeing all of your family members. Some can be annoying, troublesome, or just difficult all around.

different kinds of difficult family members

To help you with navigating those relationships, we're going to take a look into the different types of difficult family members, and what you can do to ensure you stay sane and have a good time, regardless of their actions.

The Holidays Are A Time For Family

It can be a wonderful thing when we get together around the holidays. For most of us, the air outside may be cold, but inside it's warm and welcoming when we're with those we're closest to. After all, there are so many fun things to enjoy! No matter what holidays you celebrate or how you get together, it can really be a great time for everyone.

But They Don't Always Make It Easy!

That said, most of our families aren't perfect. There's always one, or two, or six, who are just difficult to be around in some way or another. Even though you want to just relax and enjoy your time together, certain family members can make you wish you were back home!

Luckily, there are ways to deal with these family members. Whether it's someone who is loud an opinionated, nosey, dramatic or downright rude, you can handle them with tact and love. Just take a deep breath, read through the tips below and make use of the ones that seem most useful to your situation.

Different Kinds Of Difficult Family Members

There are a wide variety of difficult family member types out there. Some may simply annoy you, while others can make you feel worse after the holidays than before they started. Let's take a look at those types so that you can have a plan that works for each one.

The Dramatic One

This family member absolutely needs to be the center of the world, and they may throw a fit if they aren't. Sometimes, they may resort to spreading rumors, or generally acting out to get any kind of attention, whether it's good or bad.

dramatic family member

In addition, you might find that the dramatic family member can also be somewhat of a "pot stirrer", meaning that they like to create drama where there is none. Typically, it's best to avoid feeding this one attention, as it can quickly snowball into them creating drama about you.

The Victim

The Victim is constantly looking for personal attacks. They may even set themselves up for attacks when none are present at all. For example, if you don't give them just the right amount of praise for a gift or other feat they accomplished. This person can really drain your energy quickly!

Furthermore, The Victim can also be one who seems to collect bad feelings, grudges, old wounds and anything that seems to be negatively directed at them. It's usually best not to let this one dig too deeply under your skin, or you can wind up feeling guilty for nothing at all.

The Loud One

This family member is someone who might mean well, but who tends to be thoughtless, opinionated and unafraid to share their thoughts. As a result, they can end up being very abrasive. You might also recognize this family member as the person who gets louder in an argument rather than more logical.

In some cases, you might see this family member as someone who also angers easily. They may be extremely rigid, and become hostile when someone expresses disagreement with them. Consequently, this person can easily seem like they rule the roost.

The Void

The Void is a family member who can be incredibly emotionally draining, sucking the joy out of just about everything. They're either always looking at the negative side or talking about something terrible that happened to them, like a divorce. You might also find that this member can be somewhat needy.

the void family member

Your Troop

Your troop can include significant others, children, siblings and other family members who may not be difficult themselves, but who might be more susceptible to the difficult family members than you are. As a result, you can easily wear yourself out watching over them and untying any knots that difficult family members might create.

It's important to have a plan for these family members, so that you can ensure they are able to have a good time at the family event, without driving yourself mad in the process.

Surviving Difficult Family Members

Have A Game Plan

Before heading to the family event, make sure you spend enough time planning. This can be just with yourself, or with your troop to make sure everyone gets through the event safely and happily. Make sure you consider each difficult family member carefully, and have plans for handling each one. The more prepared you are, the easier it will be in the moment.

This kind of planning can include responses to various kinds of questions, or boundaries that you want to set. For example, consider topics that you absolutely do not want to talk about. Politics, religion, relationship or job status, and other personal or "hot button" subjects are good things to steer clear of. When these subjects come up, be prepared to change the subject, state that it isn't a topic you want to discuss, or walk away from the conversation altogether if you need to. Do not let them corner you into talking about something you don't want to discuss.

family member holidays

If you're worried about your family members becoming extremely unpleasant or even violent, then it's worth considering whether or not the event is worthwhile at all. In any case, it can also be a good idea to have at least one boundary set. This key boundary represents the line where you will no longer remain at the event. You can choose a sign or code word for your troop that signifies this point, or you can simply gather them and leave.

Do not feel like you need to stay in an unhealthy situation for the sake of family.

Be Realistic

While it's normal to hope for the best during the holiday season, it can also be helpful to remember who your family members are. Those that tend to be troublesome are unlikely to suddenly change. It's better to be prepared for their poor behavior than to go into an event blind.

In the same vein, don't allow yourself to become a doormat. Don't make yourself sit through draining, annoying or abrasive conversation for others. Holiday events are for your enjoyment, just as they are for everyone else's. Walk away if you need to, without guilt.

Using Kindness To Your Advantage

It takes a firm will to set boundaries, and a whole lot of control to set them with love. However, it is completely possible, and can be key in keeping things pleasant. Furthermore, keeping topics positive and light can keep difficult family from getting under your skin.

When they try to bring up something negative, debate something you don't want to, or otherwise cause trouble, greet it with positivity and love. Change the subject. State your intentions not to become involved in a debate. Do what you need to to remain sane, and do it with a smile.

Don't Let Them Under Your Skin

Some family members just love starting drama, irritating you or getting you riled up in some way. Consequently, they'll poke and prod until they can reach a topic that will really drive you crazy. Don't give these family members any power, and don't take their bait.

dont let them under your skin

Remember that these people enjoy causing intense emotions. Therefore, the less you have to offer them, the sooner they'll get bored or get in line. It can take practice dodging their barbs, but you'll soon find that it can be a highly effective way to keep your cool, and you may even find it fun!

Stay Grounded

Our families can find ways to drag us right back to childhood, sometimes in the worst ways. Keeping calm and remembering who you are as an adult can allow you to navigate those tricky waters a little more easily.

There are a number of ways you can do this, depending on what works best for you. You can take a few minutes to yourself when things are getting tense. Sometimes, having your own little mantra can be useful. Anything that reminds you that you aren't a child exposed to their whims can also help you to keep your cool when you feel like they might take you back in time.

Keep Things Light

Sometimes it's better to keep conversations superficial, and save the deeper stuff for those who are more supportive. Just because someone is a family member, doesn't mean you're entitled to engage in debates, answer uncomfortable questions or put up with any level of jeering.

Keeping control of the conversation is a great way to keep yourself out of comfortable topics. Go into an event having replies when family members try to bring up certain topics. Don't be afraid to set firm boundaries if they won't allow themselves to be steered into lighter subjects.

Set Boundaries

Boundaries are key! They're extremely useful for keeping annoying family members at bay, and making people play nicely, at least where you're concerned! This is where you show others what kinds of things are or are not okay with you, through gentle but firm statements.

While it can be intimidating, setting boundaries is can help you to feel empowered, in control and leave you more comfortable. It's also as simple as saying "I'm sorry, that's not something I want to talk about" and change the subject. Or, you can try changing the subject entirely, or giving an answer that doesn't give them something to chew on.

set boundaries

For example, if a family member asks about a job search, you can simply tell them it's going fine and leave it at that. They aren't entitled to know the details of your life if you don't want to share them.

Another way you can set a boundary for yourself is to know what you need to avoid, and when you need to leave. If you know you can tend to share too much while drinking, limit your alcohol intake. If you want to be home early, decide on a time to leave and stick to it.

Know When To Walk Away

Most of the time, family members back off when they see that the boundaries you've set are firm. In some cases, it reminds them to be respectful. In others, it can surprise them into following along with where you choose to guide the conversation.

However, some family members will continue to pry. They may become insistent, bring in the guilt trips or become angry that you won't give into their whims. When this happens, it's incredibly important to stand your ground and refuse to let them bully you.

Rather than giving in, or start a scene, you can choose to walk away. Remind the family member that the topic is not up for discussion, and find someone else to talk to. Family or not, they are not owed your conversation. If they choose to escalate after you've left the conversation, don't be afraid to seek out help.

Keep Close To Positive Family Members

Just like we all have some difficult family members, it's also likely that most of us have at least one who is positive, or at the very least tolerable. Allocating more of your time to these family members can allow you to avoid face time with difficult ones, or at least allow you to not withstand it alone.

This can also apply to other adult family members who come with you to the event. Naturally, if you bring your minor children, you'll be likely to want to socialize with them throughout the event but it's not a good idea to expect them to have your back with other difficult family members. After all, that isn't their job! However, a spouse or significant other can be a great partner when it comes to handling difficult family.

Consider your allies when it comes to family events, and stay around those you feel comfortable with.

Don't Be Afraid To Call In Help

While this was briefly mentioned earlier, it's important to keep this aspect in mind for many reasons. With family members who are just annoying, it can help to have a little backup to pry them away from unpleasant topics.

In worse situations, you may have to take it a step farther. If family members reach a point where they have begun to harass you or others, or have become violent, do not hesitate to call the police. While it might be embarrassing to some family members, or inconvenient for others, safety absolutely comes first.

If you have a genuine concern that family members may become dangerous to be around, it's worthwhile to consider whether or not you want to put yourself in that situation. In some cases, it may be better to spend time with other family members, friends, or around others who are sane, healthy and pleasant to be with.

Don't Sacrifice Yourself For Their Comfort

Consider your own mental and physical health, and the health of those you bring to the event first. Taking care of yourself and your children or significant other are the top priority, and shouldn't be set behind the wishes of other family members.

dont sacrifice yourself for their comfort

Don't let others guilt you into staying later than you want to, putting yourself in situations you don't want to be in, or having discussions you don't want to have. It's not selfish, it's self love, and it's absolutely necessary when it comes to dealing with difficult family.

If you need to leave because you're uncomfortable, do so. Remaining in an uncomfortable or unhealthy situation for the sake of others isn't going to help anyone.

Give Yourself Time To Recharge After

This is truly an underrated concept! We can get so wrapped up in going from one place to another that we forget to take a little time for ourselves before it's back to the everyday grind. If you can, take an extra day off to relax at home or do things you enjoy. Otherwise, try to leave the party a little early so that you can have some time to settle down before normal life begins again.

Giving yourself this extra time can help you to de-stress and shake off any tension that came from being around certain family members. It can also give you a little time to reconnect with yourself, your significant other, or just a sense of rest in general. Believe us, it's worthwhile!

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