7. In general, treat your parents and siblings as if they were the family of someone you care about, and not your own. After all, if you were with a friend’s family, and someone did something odd, you’d just ignore it, and you wouldn’t let yourself be drawn into family squabbles. You’d just be polite and pleasant, for your friend’s sake.
After following these guidelines for a few months, your interactions with your family will change, so that you can relax and just be your adult self. You’ll find that families are more fun after you leave your old childhood behavior patterns and emotional leftovers behind.
Problems with a family members may not emerge until you do something independent, and may catch you by surprise, but if you can learn to respond thoughtfully, rather than react emotionally, you’ll handle the issue better, and gain respect from the other person.
Many valuable gifts come through overcoming negative reactions, and learning to view others as reflections of ourselves—useful mirrors. The following exercise will help you step back and look at others as a source of information about yourself, view people from a different angle and use the very people who upset you as a reflection of the internal dynamics behind your struggles.
Exercise: Mirrors and Teachers
1. List problem people: Make a list of people with whom you are having problems.
2. Choose a mirror: Select one of the most difficult people on the list, and think about your interaction with that person. What do you want from him or her? Do you want to be understood? To be respected? To be left alone? To be appreciated? To be cared about?
3. Relate it to yourself: Now consider how to give to yourself what you want from the other person. If you want to be left alone, do you leave yourself alone? If you want to be trusted, do you trust yourself? If you want to be heard, do you listen to your own self? If you want to be important, are you important to you?
4. Change your self-treatment: Practice treating yourself the way you would want to be treated by the person in question. For example, if you are angry because this person doesn’t treat you with respect, consider what it would mean to treat yourself with respect, and change your behavior toward yourself accordingly. If you’re upset because the person doesn’t listen to you, spend some time every day listening to yourself.
5. Learn new skills: Think about the dynamics between the difficult person and yourself, and what you need to learn that would improve the relationship. Perhaps you need to learn not to take what is said too seriously. Perhaps you need to learn to set boundaries, or to handle other peoples’ anger more effectively. Make a list of new skills you could learn that would improve your ability to deal better with this type of individual. On your list, note where you think you could learn the skills you need. From a friend? With a therapist? From books?
6. Do your part: Take responsibility for your part of the relationship. Keeping in mind that no one can struggle with you if you don’t struggle back, consider what you need to do to remove yourself from the relationship problem. Remember, no matter what’s going on, you have control over your own actions – you can choose not to participate in any situation that is destructive or counter-productive.