Everyone has some relative who has bad table manners, belongs to a crazy cult, or drinks too much. We tend to be hardest on those closest to us, wanting to eradicate their bad habits. Yet, showing embarrassment and disapproval tends to draw out the worst in those around us, and may reveal that we care too much about the family image.
Our relatives don’t define who we are and besides, no one is perfect. Life is too short to worry about the imperfections in those around us. Generally, a sense of humor can help us overlook our family’s extreme political views or incessant bragging.
You’re better off not trying to change adult relatives or to get them to see the light. If they haven’t changed in 20 years, they are not likely to change now. The exception would be if they became deeply motivated to change within themselves.
Abusive behavior or language, however, is another matter completely. It’s important to speak up or leave when someone is aggressive or acts inappropriately, such as name calling or exercising harsh criticism. When you respond to a verbal attack, you could say, “When you call me names, it’s denigrating to both of us, and makes me want to leave. If you have something to say to me, say it respectfully.” If they can’t stop their belittling behavior, then it’s time to limit or stop spending your time with them.
Harmless personality quirks, though, can be seen as a source of amusement rather than providing you with a mission to correct them. Challenge yourself to use your wit, creativity, and humanity to overlook imperfections and to bring out the best in those eccentric family members around you.
You’re only given a little spark of madness. You mustn’t lose it.
by Alison Poulsen, PhD