Has this been a problem at your family's gatherings? Do you find that you get caught up in arguments with unreasonable people who won't listen to common sense? Have you had to defend yourself against hypersensitive people who seem to overreact to every little thing? Are there times when it seems that everyone turns against you? Worse yet, has anyone ever accused you of being the troublemaker?
It's possible that you're right and everyone else is wrong. Sometimes that happens. Even so, if this is a scenario that happens repeatedly, then maybe, just maybe, it might be worthwhile to consider the possibility that you bear some responsibility.
Thanksgiving is over, but there are more holidays, birthdays, weddings, and vacations to come. This is a good time to ask a few questions that might help make things better the next time you and your relatives get together.
- Do you find it hard to resist asking provocative questions? Maybe you just want to show interest and concern because you care about what's happening. But certain questions are likely to trigger strong feelings in those being asked. They may feel that they are being judged or pressured, or that their privacy is being invaded. The question may connect to some private sorrow or ongoing problem that they don't want to talk about. Some examples of questions you shouldn't ask:
- "When are you two going to get married?" "When are you going to get a real job?" "Why don't you have any kids yet?" "Have you put on weight?" "What have you done to your hair?" "Are you pregnant?"
- Do you feel that you have a duty to tell someone an unpleasant or hurtful truth because they "have a right to know"? Maybe someone is just too happy because they are completely unaware of some ugly thing. Before you enlighten that person, ask yourself what useful purpose this will serve. Consider the fact that this is none of your business, the person you are targeting doesn't want or need to know whatever it is, and the information you are so eager to impart will not improve that person's life one bit. If you still want to tell, you are just being cruel. Don't do it.
- When family members have different political opinions from yours, do you tell them how stupid and ignorant they are? Do you think that will persuade them to your way of thinking? It's better just to avoid talking about politics.
- Do you like to tell jokes that other people think are vulgar, racist, sexist, or insulting? Maybe you're really hilarious and they are just uptight. Or maybe you are way out of line. Either way, if you know you're likely to get a negative reaction, keep quiet. If you've already offended everyone, apologize and don't do it again.
- Do you like to engage in "harmless flirting" with other people's spouses? It's not harmless, it's obnoxious.
- Do you think it's funny to embarrass people by revealing secrets or talking about someone's past mistakes? This is mean, and it just makes people uncomfortable. Even if you get a few laughs, you will make at least one enemy, and behaving this way tells everyone you are not to be trusted.
- Do you get drunk or high and then get into arguments, or break things, or maybe even get into physical fights? Have you ever blacked out or felt like you were out of control? If so, you have a serious problem, and it's time to get help.
If you don't do any of those things, but have a family member who does, then it's important to be prepared. Think about how you want to behave, and picture yourself as a calm, pleasant person. Remember that you don't have to respond to provocation or join an argument.
Often a troublemaker is trying to get a particular kind of response, so just responding differently than expected may defuse the situation. For example, instead of telling the offender that he or she is wrong, just smile and say, "Thanks for that information. I love you, too." If necessary, give yourself permission to take some time out, or even to leave early if that will help.
Try to find something positive in the situation, even if it's just that it will all be over soon. When you are back in your own space, you can relax and recover.