There is nothing like a lockdown to remind you of your difficult family members. It was easy to get away from them by going to work, getting outside, or avoiding them. But now, with everyone locked into place due to COVID-19, the frustration of family members is peaking.
It can be hard to know where to set a boundary. Especially when they have been set and reset several times in the past. However, the difference now is the ability to be consistent. Consider this time to be an intensive therapy approach where new healthy lines of communication can be established. Developing boundaries allows you to feel more in control of the situation while setting limitations for your reaction. Here are a couple of suggestions.
- It’s all about perspective. Try seeing things from the difficult person’s perspective. Take a few moments to step back and separate the person from the issue at hand. Look at things from their point of view.
- Don’t let their response dictate yours. Difficult people tend to react in anger, become defensive or lie when confronted. Their reaction should not dictate your reaction. Rather, remain true to your character and temperament.
- Body language speaks louder than words. Listen to what the difficult person is saying and pay attention to repeated words and body language. These are clues as to hidden meanings. The truth often lies in the hidden meanings, either for good or bad.
- Stop trying to change them. Identify what makes this person difficult and accept it without trying to change it. Make mental allowances for any known traumas the person may have experienced. See it as a disability rather than dysfunction or disorder.
- Focus on the positive. Discover the difficult person’s positive traits. Everyone has some positive, focus on that while avoiding the negative. Try to find something to be grateful for this person, it will help soften your approach.
- Be comfortable with what you need. Frequently, a difficult person refuses to acknowledge your needs but that doesn’t minimize their importance. Their agenda is avoidance at all costs, don’t succumb.
- Pay attention to how you communicate. Be firm and yet kind in communication, using as few words as possible. The greater the volume of words, the greater the intensity of the discussion. Answer only the question that is asked.
- Eliminate unreasonable expectations. Set realistic expectations about the results of the conversation anticipating the possible outcomes. For instance, this discussion will have to happen several times before it sinks in and change occurs.
- Don’t tolerate abusive behavior. Know when to walk away and abandon the discussion. Remember, the difficult person does not need to be in charge. Verbal abuse is just as damaging as physical abuse.
- Set the agenda and timing. Take the initiative. Lead, instead of following the difficult person. Decide on a healthy place, time, and duration to have a conversation.
- Don’t get defensive. The difficult person will try to instigate a defensive response. Avoid this trap. When you become defensive, it is easier to attack.
- Review past challenges. Study the difficult person in a variety of setting to understand their triggers better. This simple tactic can minimize the number of intense conversations.
- Use humor. Don’t belittle or be sarcastic, this is abusive. Gentle humor in combination with good timing can lighten an atmosphere.
Even after confrontation, most difficult people will not change. After all, a person cannot change what they refuse to acknowledge. And difficult people rarely admit their demanding nature. This is not about trying to influence them; rather it is about changing your approach and setting healthy boundaries.