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How to Deal with Difficult Relatives

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Mother's day is a time to celebrate the woman who gave birth to you, but what happens when that person is difficult to deal with? Licensed Clinical Psychologist Dr. Alex Bloom joined us to share helpful tips.

How to handle difficult family members

Mother’s Day can be a great reason to reconnect with that special person who helped usher us into the world. Yet, for so many, trying to bond with their mothers can seem more like a chore or obstacle. So what do you do if Mom is a difficult person? Or, for that matter, aunt, grandmother, or any other family member!

Dialectical Behavior Therapy, or DBT, is a powerful, well-researched, form of therapy and can shed some light on how to manage this tricky situation. So if you send your mother a Mother’s Day present and it’s not well received, how do you manage that in an effective way?

So, when mom starts nagging or sending those slight digs:

• Mindfulness: Tuning into the present moment in a non-judgy way. Stop and check-in with yourself. Do you feel your jaw tightening? Your thoughts racing to scramble on the defense? What’s happening with your breath?

• Distress Tolerance: Short term coping skills when our emotions intensify. Pause and take a conscious breath before responding to her. Practice cheerleading statements (e.g., “Just because mom is difficult to love doesn’t mean I’m unlovable”), or do something kind to yourself after your conversation ends (e.g., going for a walk, calling a friend).

• Emotion Regulation: Understanding your emotional responses and increasing positive emotions. This one requires more longer-term investment. What is a typical phone call with Mom like? When she starts into me, how do I typically react? What thoughts and feelings come up? How can I more consciously choose to sidestep this repetitive script to move from reacting to responding – being more conscious and intentional.

• Interpersonal Effectiveness: leveling up our communication skills and how we “people”. There are essentially three aspects to communication: What do I want to get out of this interaction (the objective), how can I as be tactful and diplomatic as I know how to be (the relationship), and regardless of how the other responds, how do I want to feel about myself and how I handled things once the exchange is over (self-respect).