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6 Key Tips for Dealing with ‘Difficult’ Family Members

Dealing with difficult family members

Caring for older relatives can be a profoundly valuable experience, helping you forge deeper connections to a distant generation.

However, sometimes these relationships can be soured by challenging behaviour which, once it becomes habitual, can lead to a significant impact on your own well-being as well as the care they receive.

Here are six things to remember when dealing with ‘difficult’ family members.

 Listening Closely

Sometimes older family members struggle to find the words to express themselves. Age-related decline, as well as changed circumstances, can be confusing for elderly people, and when words fail them they can become triggered into anger or aggression.

Listening closely to discover the frustration that’s at the heart of these feelings can help you understand your family member, and provide a pathway to a diplomatic solution.

Listening to the grievances of your family member shows that you respect them and can help to calm the situation. You could use expressions such as ‘I hear what you’re saying’, and ‘I understand where you’re coming from’, to indicate that you’re engaged with and compassionate about their position.

 Learning Their Triggers

Although sometimes older family members can seem irrational or unpredictable, it’s likely that there’s a reason behind their behaviour. Often, the complex confluence of triggers can be difficult to determine, but reflecting on the situations in which your family members become obstinate or angry can reveal subtle triggers to their behaviour.

Triggers can range from challenging emotional circumstances, such as living with dementia or even commonplace political discussions.

You can’t always avoid the circumstances or topics that trigger your relative’s behaviour, but by identifying their triggers you can put a structure in place which diminishes the impact of the trigger.

 Building Boundaries

 Difficult behaviour is learned over time, and if you don’t establish firm boundaries against raised voices or violence, this behaviour can be reinforced.

The earlier you begin establishing boundaries, the easier and stronger these boundaries will be, but it’s never too late to start responding proactively to difficult behaviour.

When your difficult family member starts acting out, you could tell them that they’re making you uncomfortable with their behaviour. You could suggest a solution, such as lowering their voice or explain how they’re feeling.

If they refuse, or escalate the situation, it’s important that you step away from the situation. Learning to protect yourself from the upsetting effects of a difficult relative will enable you to approach their challenging behaviour with greater compassion and energy in the future.

 Finding Your Allies

You can’t cope with difficult family members on your own. Whilst it can often feel isolating to be managing a challenging relative, there are many people from whom you can draw support. Whether it’s other caregivers who have direct experience of the challenges you’re facing, or family and friends that you can talk to and decompress with, your allies can support you in a variety of ways.

If you’re reaching the end of your tether with a difficult family member, your allies are the people that you can ask to step in while you recharge. They’re the people you turn to for advice.

Remembering that you’re not alone can take the weight of the world off your shoulders.

 Keeping Your Cool

When you’re dealing with a difficult family member it’s easy for emotions to flare in a second.

However, if one person is being antagonistic, the situation will only escalate if you lose your cool. Finding ways to stay calm and collected in the face of challenging behaviour is vital for de-escalating difficult situations and reaching pragmatic and diplomatic solutions.

You could count to ten before responding to inflammatory remarks, or take a walk to clear your head before returning to the situation. Sometimes simply asking a third party to observe your conversations can be enough to keep emotions under control.

 Safety First

Lastly, it’s vital to remember that nothing should undermine your own safety. It’s easy to lose sight of ourselves in the face of challenging family members, but if you’re threatened by physical violence or verbal abuse, you have a right to take yourself out of the situation.

In situations where you feel unsafe, reach out to social services – you’re doing the right thing for yourself and your family member.

Wrapping Up

Consciously listening to the grievances of your family members and identifying their triggers can often help you avoid the most challenging situations. Working to build better relationships with your relatives can be a valuable experience, so long as you remember to reach out to your allies and put your safety first.

Author Ashley Halsey is a writer and tutor at Research paper writing services UK and Gumessays.com with a background in counselling and family therapy. She lives in Bozeman, Montana with her family and loves hiking in the hills to get away from it all. Ashley is a tutor at Research Papers UK.

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Photo by Andrew Neel from Pexels


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2 years ago

There’s some nice common sense approaches in this article

Lesley Trenner
Lesley Trenner
2 years ago

Interesting article. One thing to keep in mind is that it can feel like an older relative is doing and saying things due to their age. Whereas sometimes it’s reinforcing a personality trait that we always found difficult or reminding us about the relationship we had in the past which was always an emotional trigger…

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