Dealing With Difficult Family Members – Barbara Bush

Are you confused about how to deal with difficult family members? These ways to solve problems in difficult families are inspired by quotations from Barbara Bush, who is all about families…

“At the end of your life, you will never regret not having passed one more test, winning one more verdict, or not closing one more deal,” said Barbara Bush. “You will regret time not spent with a husband, a child, a friend, or a parent.”

Sometimes it seems easier to distance yourself from difficult family members – and sometimes distance is the best solution. Other times, however, it’s healthier to deal directly with problems in families. For help, read Leaving Home: The Art of Separating From Your Difficult Family. And, here are some suggestions for difficult families…

Dealing With Difficult Family Members – Barbara Bush

Learn how to deal with difficult people. Dealing with difficult people can be challenging, but there are many books and resources on how to deflect conflicts and situations. Read about boundaries, take workshops or classes about setting healthy boundaries with difficult people, and consider talking to a counselor about the best way to handle problems with family members.

Distance yourself from difficult family members. Even though Barbara Bush says, “Cherish your human connections: your relationships with friends and family,” I think the best way to handle some types of family problems is to separate yourself physically and emotionally. This may mean moving to a different house, state, or country. Or, it may mean not answering the phone until you’re mentally and emotionally ready to talk. You don’t necessarily need to cut difficult family members out of your life; rather, you can give them a quick call every 2-3 months — or you can send a note instead of calling.

Don’t expect your family member to change. Change the things you have control over, such as how often you visit. Even knowing you have control over the littlest things can make a difference! Your family member may never change, but you can empower yourself in different ways. For instance, if you have an alcoholic sibling, you can join an Al-Anon support group. Difficult family members are stressful – there’s no doubt about it – but you can reduce the stress by checking your own attitude and response to them.

Know when to draw the line. On my How to Cope With Difficult Parents article, many readers describe toxic relatives who cause a lot of harm to themselves and their family members. My readers ask the same question over and over: “How can I stop my brother/parent/uncle member from doing the same harmful act?” It depends on the situation, but many times the answer is found in letting your family member face the consequences. If you keep protecting your family member from the natural consequences of his actions, then he’ll keep acting the same way.

Expect criticism. Handling problems with family members requires setting boundaries. It’s easier to set boundaries than to actually stick to them! Learn how to protect your boundaries despite criticism from other people. And remember that your difficult family members may not think they’re doing anything wrong, and may not see the negative effect they have on you or others. They may think everyone should live and act the way they do. That’s their right, and it’s your right to live the way you see fit.

Figure out what the “natural consequences” are. If your family member causes physical harm to another person or family member, then a natural consequence is legal action. If your relative always borrows money and never pays it back, then a natural consequence could be filing suit for repayment (provided you and your relative signed a loan agreement). Another natural consequence is not being invited to family dinners or celebrations (if the toxic relative always ruins the get-togethers). Many families try – out of love – to protect their relatives from the results of their actions. This may appear to be a loving thing to do, but it’s “enabling.” It perpetuates the behavior.

“You have to love your children unselfishly,” says Barbara Bush. “That’s hard. But it’s the only way.” And, part of unselfish love is doing what’s best for your child…even when he’s the most difficult family member you’ve ever known!

What do you think of these ways to deal with difficult family members? I welcome your questions and comments below…


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