Firstly, Happy Halloween! I had so many children knocking on my door tricking or treating - what fun! And the parties... I always enjoy the end of October, what fun.
Now on to November! One of the most wonderful aspects of writing this 'Useletter' is that many people send me comments and requests as to the topics they would like to see discussed. And it truly does make me feel that the messages are being read and helping others. Two weeks ago I received a request on how to deal with family problems. This is a huge subject and falls into various categories. I suppose most families have at least one 'problem' member, this could be the black sheep, the hormonal teenager, or even an over eager, but caring mother-in-law. These people try our patience and we often have major issues trying to deal with them, which in turn leads to anger, stress and even arguments with those close to you.
Yes, it is normal to get angry with someone that seems unreasonable, but unfortunately this just results in retaliation and ends in heating up the situation even more and damages any chance of meaningful communication to resolve the issue. Trust from either side is lost and the situation is never resolved, as mostly, each person blames the other - and a vicious circle is created from which their is no escape.
Put yourself in that family member's situation. There is a great story that says you need to wear the shoes of this family member and walk a mile a day in their shoes. Ultimately in 10 days time, you will have their shoes and they will be 10 miles away! If only it was so easy!
This months Quick Tips cover 5 tips on coping with family problems. Again, they can be viewed at the end of this email, or simply click on the language of your choice here; English, German & Afrikaans.
Here are some general tips on coping with some of these situations.
This is easier said than done... but it is possible. Hold back on your built up frustrations and for once just listen to the other person. Show them you are willing and open to try and understand where they are coming from. Don't just wait for your turn to talk, or for the opportunity to snap back with a hurtful comment - actually take a step back and really listen to what they have to say. Whether you agree with them or not is not the issue here! Just listen and grasp their point of view. Don't sit there and think of them as stupid, unreasonable, selfish or over bearing - hold back all your preconceptions and judgements. Yes that may be difficult to do. But you can do it if you want to!
Am I saying you must give in? No! I'm saying you must listen. Even if you believe you are in the right and they are in the wrong. This isn't the issue here - it's about one of you actually listening and seeing the other person's point of view. Odds are they didn't read this article, hence won't be the one listening - so it's up to you! It's a mind set change. You may well find now that you are actually listening, you see the situation differently. Even if they are still in the wrong, by listening you can objectively think about their point of view - the emphasis is on becoming objective. Most family issues are emotional, hence become subjective and based on personal feelings. As soon as you can take this out of the situation and look at it objectively, perspectives change!
2.) Separate the behaviour from the person
This goes hand in hand with the above. Often the feud is with a cousin, or brother that may for some or other reason have always 'been the favourite', 'married rich', etc. and we judge this person due to their circumstances or background. They could be in a relationship where they always get their way, and now trying to do the same with you, which is resulting in the argument. Instead of retaliating with, "You are an arrogant bully", rather say something like, "You behaviour is offensive to me." By doing this you are not attacking them personally which should prevent them from getting defensive. This is a subtle change but it gives the other person a chance to detach themselves from their own behaviour.
3.) Step back
Think about the problem without bringing emotions into the picture. Ask yourself a few questions; How does this affect me? Does it affect any other family members? How can I help? What will everyone else think about my solution? As soon as you step back and take other factors into consideration, it makes you more objective and lets you analyse the problem on another level.
Hand in hand with the above, comes patience. It may take a few attempts of listening before the real truth comes out - the core issue of the feud. Here you need to be man/woman enough to give it time and listen, until the truth comes out. Remember that it will only be natural for them to rant and rave the first few times you listen. It may be the first time they have had a chance to express themselves without you interrupting. So it will only be natural that they will vent their own emotions and frustrations initially. Here it will take not only patience, but understanding that this is only normal.
5.) Keep your voice down
Nothing is more frustrating than when someone doesn't want to see your point of view. Often we need to raise our voices to be heard. In turn the other person raises their voice too, and it becomes a shouting match. Calmness is the secret here. Practice remaining calm and keeping your voice low. Think of any good debate on TV, the person that usually wins is the one that remains calm and collected.
6.) Don't brood over it
We tend to brood over family arguments and think about them the whole day. We analyse over and over looking for answers. This is like worry - whether you worry or not, it doesn't change the final outcome. It's the same here. The more you brood over it, the more you are going to depress yourself. Learn to let it go and give the other person a chance to calm down. After an argument, do something else, take your mind off the event. Odds are when you look back at it, it won't be anywhere as serious as it was the day before. As humans we tend to overburden ourself with thoughts about feuds which makes it worse. Thinking of something else and letting go lessens the emotions substantially.
It reminds me of a story of a man that would hang 'nothing' on a tree outside his front door when he arrived home at night. The next morning he would take this 'nothing' off the tree again before leaving for work. His neighbour watched him doing this for weeks before quizzing him on this weird behaviour. The man replied, "When I get home, I hang all my stresses and irritations from work on the tree and leave them outside so that I don't bother my family with them. The next morning when I leave is the first time I pick them up again and think about them. Guess what? In the morning they are nowhere as bad as they were the night before!" Isn't that a great analogy?
7.) Consider the outcomes
Yes, often you would like to tell the other person exactly what you think of them - it's a way of letting off steam... but that's all it is... a way of letting off steam. It may do you good temporarily, but it may cause problems for years to come and ruin future relationships. Rather hold back on personal attacks and only give an 'objective' opinion when asked for advice.
8.) Don't gossip!
This is one of the biggest causes of feuds. One family member does something wrong, and then you make a point of phoning everyone and gossiping about it. Don't do this! If someone doesn't need to know something, why stir and tell everyone? What does it say about you? Don't be one of those people that derives pleasure from other people's mishaps. Do the honourable thing and keep it quiet. If you want your family to trust you, you need to learn to be a person that can be trusted, and not gossip about every happening.
9.) Don't let them get to you!
Yes, most/many families have someone that loves stirring and antagonising other family members. You know the type... the one person that always has negative things to say, or can never be happy for your successes. Here's a reality check... you get these people everywhere and they may never change. This leaves you with two choices, get annoyed with them, or accept them for who they are and limit contact with them. That's it! It boils down to you being the better person and not letting them get to you. Ignore them long enough and don't fall into their trap of setting you off, and they will soon realise that they cannot manipulate your emotions anymore.
Keep visits with them short. If they do still manage to annoy you, excuse yourself politely and leave without causing a fuss. They may soon confront you on this, as they will see they are not getting their way. At this point don't become personal... apply point No. 2 and separate the person from their behaviour. Don't tell them you find them irritating and obnoxious (too personal), instead inform them that you see their behaviour towards you as offensive. It is then up to that person to decide whether they want to change or not.
10.) Be yourself
They say peer pressure pays a role in a teenager's life... well, family pressure plays a role in your whole life. Yes, your parents may have wanted you to become a doctor, but instead you became a street cleaner. So? Are you happy in your choice of career path? Why should this cause conflict. Imagine my family - being German - I still have an aunt who is turning 85 this month who asked me not a few months ago, "When are you getting a real job?"
You must remember, other people's contexts of what you do are not always correct. At the end of the day you have to live with yourself. Are you there to lead a fulfilled life with purpose, or always fit into what your family wants you to do? Yes they care for you and only want the best for your future, but have you gently stood your ground and tried to make them see that what you do makes you happy. Obviously if you have made a bad choice somewhere, take their advice, but if you know in your heart who you are and want to be, then don't let others change you. By standing your ground, they will eventually see your side - after all shouldn't they love you unconditionally?
Have an awesome November.