If you have a relative who seems to be constantly negative or is openly hostile towards you, it can be very damaging to family relations. It’s crucial, then, that we seek to develop our skills for dealing with them.
Dr Gary Chapman, an experienced counsellor and author of many best-selling books on relationships, talks about the idea of “reframing” your interactions with difficult people.
Putting yourself in someone else’s shoes, or reframing, is a great way to deal with difficult relatives (or all people, full stop!). Reframing requires us to see something in a new way, in a context that allows us to appreciate positive aspects of a situation.
For example, that brother who is always two hours late to family engagements? Maybe they are struggling with an over-controlling girlfriend and find it hard to get away. Or your aunt, who you labelled as “aloof” as she refuses to sit with the rest of the family? Perhaps she has serious social anxiety, and needs time away from others to stay emotionally regulated. What about the over-sharing mother-in-law who always talks to you but never listens? What if she lives alone and her interactions with you are the only way she has to feel connected to others? By finding a context for those “difficult” people, by reframing the picture, a new story emerges.
By asking ourselves, “I wonder what is going on for the other person?” rather than “Why does this person keep doing these annoying things to me?” you’ll start to get a fuller picture of the other person and hopefully breathe more compassion into your interactions with them.