How can I make the holidays more loving when a relative continually makes annoying or inappropriate comments?
Around the holidays, I often hear clients voice versions of these common complaints: “My mother-in-law will try to take over the kitchen,” or “My know-it-all sister always has a better way to do things,” or “My relatives ask pointed questions about my job/relationship/finances.” Sound familiar?
Here are seven ways to handle people who are rude, critical, controlling, nosy, or insensitive during holiday gatherings.
1. Matador their comments.
A good way to stop a bull that’s charging at you, regardless of the negative form it takes, is to just let it go by. Ignore the comments or as needed, fend them off with a simple statement such as, “Thanks, but I’m not looking for advice right now.” If the person continues, lovingly say it again. And again, if necessary!
2. Practice acceptance.
Accept that people and things are the way they are. You can’t change others, but you can change your own perceptions and expectations. If you’re coming in to work every day and feeling your stomach clench up as soon as you hear the annoying person’s voice across the room, you need to learn how to repeat this phrase over and over until it sinks in: “People and things are the way they are. I can’t control them, but I can control my own attitude.” This phrase, which you can customize by putting in the name of the jerky person, works like magic to immediately dispel frustration and remove your emotional involvement with him or her. You’ll quickly feel more accepting, calm, and less irritated.
3. Firmly but lovingly speak up and stand your ground.
Sometimes, especially with particularly pushy people, it’s necessary to tell them it’s not helpful for you to receive unsolicited advice. Talk about yourself and the specific comment rather than finger-pointing or telling them what a drag they are. Lovingly say your “I” (what’s true for you) about the specific event. If they persist, tell them that you’re starting to feel angry or frustrated and you’d like them to stop, please. Repeat and repeat some more.
4. Realize that it’s not about you.
When people feel compelled to tell you what you should do, it’s good to remember that what they’re saying and what’s unconsciously motivating them has little to do with you. They may need to feel important. They may be looking for love or respect from you or others. The reality is that you are fine. They have unexpressed anger and are targeting it on you.
5. Appreciate them when they’re not giving advice.
If you notice that a critical or pushy relative is being empathetic or listening with sensitivity, catch them being good. Keep your eye open for good work, smart ideas, or even the occasional good attitude, and be sure to praise them when they do something well. Praising what you do like may subtly sink in and help to change his or her behavior.
6. Focus on keeping the present joyful.
Keep bringing the focus back to the present when others attempt to divert attention to negative things and old unfinished business. Make a comment about how good the food is, the football game is, or how beautiful the house looks. Make a genuine comment about the true meaning of the holiday and how grateful you feel. “Isn’t it great to be here all together. I feel so fortunate. Isn’t the turkey delicious.”
7. Let out those pent-up emotions.
After a long day of fending off critical, over-controlling relatives who’ve tested the boundaries of your patience and politeness, you need to get all that anger and possibly sadness out of your system. Find a private place to pound your fists, stomp your feet, growl, and cry. You’ll feel better instantly, and ready to face them all over again tomorrow for the holiday brunch!