How To Deal With Difficult Family Members—And Keep Your Sanity

How To Deal With Difficult Family Members—And Keep Your Sanity

Family: love ‘em or hate ‘em, chances are you’re stuck with them. Sure, it’s nice to envision a world wherein we all get along with each other, but family members can sometimes be the people who hurt us the most. Putting your foot down is no easy feat, but there are ways you can set healthy boundaries with a difficult family member—and here’s where to start.

1. Prioritize Your Needs

Setting boundaries starts with your needs. Relationships with difficult family members, or even hardheaded people, often encourage you to put your needs aside as a way to keep the peace. But to move forward in a healthy way, recognize your needs first. 

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2. Communicate Clearly

Any healthy relationship needs good communication. It may be harder with a difficult family, but it’s best for both of you to communicate firmly and kindly what you want to say.

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3. Establish Boundaries

A difficult person in your life won’t know your boundaries if you don’t make them clear. They may have overstepped them in the past, but avoid that moving forward by clearly communicating where your lines are. 

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4. Be Assertive, But Kind

There’s nothing wrong with standing up for yourself or setting healthy boundaries. Don’t allow a difficult family member to convince you otherwise. Be firm but gentle in explaining what you want and why.

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5. Understand Your Triggers

If you’ve never reflected on why a family member’s actions hurt you, this is your chance to learn. Speaking with a professional or reflecting on your triggers gives you the tools you need to build boundaries and understand what situations to avoid in the future.

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6. Have Realistic Expectations

As much as it hurts to acknowledge, a relationship may not improve—at least not immediately. You can do everything right and go through all the strategies, but the other person has to want change too. Keep realistic expectations in mind so you don’t let yourself down. 

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7. Write a Script

It might sound silly on the surface, but it’s hard to stand up for yourself. Writing out a script beforehand allows you a chance to practice what you want to say and gain confidence in doing it. 

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8. Say No

“No” has always been a full sentence, and it’s no different with family. Saying no more helps to establish boundaries and grants you the confidence to put your needs first. It can also reframe the mindset that you need to lay down your mental health for others.

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9. Get Professional Help

Learning to express yourself with a difficult family member is a challenge. A good way to sidestep those obstacles is to speak with a professional. Once they learn the situation, they can help you with proper communication strategies and coping mechanisms.

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10. Recognize Manipulation

While we’d like to hope it doesn’t, family members sometimes greet boundaries with defense or hostility. This can take many forms such as deflecting responsibility, victimization, or gaslighting. Understanding these manipulation tactics beforehand helps you spot them later—and deal with them accordingly.  

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11. Less Time Together

Absence makes the heart grow fonder, but it also grants some much-needed breathing room. Sometimes the best thing you can do for yourself is to limit time spent with those who drain you.

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12. You’re in Charge

At the end of the day, you control your life. If a situation makes you uncomfortable, you’re not obligated to stay. If someone doesn’t respect your boundaries, distance yourself from that person. You’re in control to do what’s best for you.

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13. Take Care of Yourself

You’ve put self-care on the backburner long enough! In challenging times, remember to take care of yourself. Whether it’s with some pampering or just giving yourself some time to process, take care of you.

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14. Know It May Take Time

The belief that things will change overnight only disheartens us when it doesn’t happen. As important as it is to have realistic expectations, it’s just as important to remember that mending a relationship takes time.

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15. Walk Away

One of the most important things to remember is that you have the power to walk away. Whether you need a breather or choose to leave an event altogether, you’re in control. If you feel that walking away would be best for all parties, you’re within your rights to do so.

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16. Reflect

When the dust settles on an unpleasant visit or conversation, take some time to reflect. Think about what happened, what could have gone better, or how you may have acted differently. Reflecting on issues can open your eyes to new strategies or why boundaries are necessary.

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17. Learn Your Coping Strategies

What calms you down in moments of stress or anger? How do you deal with such strong emotions in a safe and healthy way? Working on your coping mechanisms helps you learn more about what you need and nips unhealthy strategies in the bud.

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18. Establish Consequences

As hard as it can be, establishing consequences for crossed boundaries or inappropriate behavior shows your commitment. Difficult family members probably won’t change on their own if they’re allowed to keep pushing your buttons with no repercussions. 

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19. Have a Support Network

Surrounding yourself with supportive people is one of the best ways to climb a mountain. It can be someone in your own family or a trusted friend—whoever’s closest to you will know your battle and support you in your fight against it.

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20. Do What’s Best For You

You know yourself better than anyone. When push comes to shove, it’s up to you to do what’s best, however that may look. 

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