How to Deal with Difficult Family Members

It's time for a quick pep talk! 

You are in charge of who you let into your life.  Just because someone is a blood relative does not give them the right to be in your life.  They must EARN the right to be in your life, to have access to you.  Do they inspire, support, encourage, and uplift you?  Or, do they just make you feel badly about yourself, physically hurt you, put you down, or yell at you often?  Are they harsh, judgmental, and critical? 

Evaluating if someone is an asset to your life, or a detriment, is hard to do.  There are specific behaviors that are easier to identify as toxic, such as physical or verbal abuse.  Insidious behaviors like always trying to one-up you, put you down, or calling you names can be just as harmful if you hear these messages long enough.  I encourage you to ask yourself if you feel better or worse after spending time with someone.  If you find you feel worse on a consistent basis, I would suggest setting limits with those difficult family members.  Limit your time with them or limit their access to you as a way to begin to stand up for yourself.  Limits could be anything from:  

-not talking on the phone for more than 10 minutes at a time, or only in person with a trusted friend present 

-designating certain topics (such as your partner, education, or job) as off limits for discussions 

-only seeing them in public.   

Let your family member know that these are your limits and if they don't respect them, that you will not continue to have contact with them.  For example, if you've decided your job is an off-limits topic for your aunt to talk to you about, then when she begins to lecture you about it, perhaps you get up and leave the room.  WARNING: Setting limits with anyone will take consistent effort to enforce.  Those close to you who are used to saying whatever hurtful or harmful thing they want will be confused by your new limits.  They will think you are joking or won't really follow through.  They will test you to see if you are serious.  So, just setting limits is not the solution.  You MUST FOLLOW THROUGH WITH WHATEVER YOU DECIDE!  Make sure you can follow through and do what you say if you are going to set limits.  Perhaps start small, with things you know you can be successful. 

It is your responsibility to look out for and advocate for yourself, because, as an adult, no one else will do that for you. Ask yourself: “Has this person earned the right to be in my life?" 

The positive side of this is that you can create a "family" of loving people surrounding you, regardless of if they are biologically related to you or not.  Surround yourself with those who you trust, who care for you, and who want the best for you.  Having cheerleaders around you can be inspiring and encouraging, especially when setting and enforcing limits with difficult people.  

If you feel comfortable sharing, I'd love to hear if you have successfully set boundaries with difficult family members.